Monkeys hold a State to ransom

Himachal Pradesh issues shoot at sight order

Their reputation for ferocity in the monkey world bagged the langurs the job of defending the Commonwealth games venues from other simians in the national capital.

The squad of some 38-odd langurs successfully accomplished the mission to keep other monkeys at bay. But not faraway in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh, the monkey menace is, perhaps, too serious for the langurs to handle. The sheer number of monkeys in Himachal Pradesh, an estimated 3.17 lakh in the hill state as per the latest animal census, and the extend of damage these simians cause year after year to crops, has got the government to deal with the menace with a stick - well, to be precise, with the gun.

With the approval of the state government, aggrieved farmers are fast gearing up for a “shoot-at-sight” action to cull monkeys attacking farmer fields. Gunning down wild animals, including monkeys, to defend crops has already had the approval of the government, which is now issuing permits to farmers to kill the simians.

Believed to be descendents of Lord Hanuman, the very idea of randomly killing monkeys, however, has outraged animal lovers who plan a showdown. Only last month, a giant idol of Lord Hanuman - a 108-foot-high statue weighing 1,500 tonnes and
located at an altitude of 8,500 feet - was unveiled in Shimla by Bollywood celebrity Abhishek Bachchan.

But before any plans of showdown take off, the death warrants for monkeys, it seems, is already out. The Kheti Bachao Sangarsh Samithi (KBSS), a farmers’
organisation, is getting its act together to shoot trouble-making monkeys. To begin with, the plan is to mobilise 10,000 farmers in the state and arm them with permits to kill monkeys, wild boars and the nilgai (blue bulls). The campaign began on December 10 and the exercise will continue for the next fortnight.

The KBSS hopes that close to half the farmers will get permits shortly to save their fields. Talking to Deccan Herald, KBSS convener Kuldeep Singh Tanwar said wild animals cause huge losses to farmers each year by damaging the crops. “(Shooting) seems the only way to deal with the problem. We want scientific culling of monkeys by trained shooters and farmers under supervision of experts. But the government does not want this. So the only way is to get the farmers to exercise their power to kill monkeys using the gun,” Tanwar said.

An estimated Rs 500 crore worth of crop is lost each year because of the monkey
attack, Tanwar said, adding that the export of monkeys for bio-medical research is a perfect option to bring down their numbers.

But the Centre seems disinterested in exerting this option anymore, and has
already grounded the state’s proposal to lift the ban on export of monkeys, to tackle the simian menace. During the on-going winter session of the Himachal Pradesh Assembly, Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal admitted on the floor of the House that the monkey menace needs to be taken seriously since it has taken an alarming proportion.

Sterilisation of monkeys is an option which the state is already putting to effect. Close to 23,500 monkeys in Himachal Pradesh have already been sterilised by the state’s Forest and Wildlife Department.

The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is clearly outraged. Speaking to Deccan Herald over phone from Mumbai, PETA India chief functionary Poorva Joshipura said: “Shooting animals fails to address the root of the issue and is cruel as many animals will simply be painfully wounded and mothers will be killed while their babies will be left to slowly starve. The government and NGOs need to help farmers take constructive innovative action that is both humane and acts as a solution in the long term and non-lethal methods. Ecological harmony cannot be restored through the barrel of a gun.”

Himachal Pradesh’s capital Shimla- bears the brunt of the menace of some 36,000 monkeys as per the census. Residents and farmers’ organisations have often taken to streets to press the government for a sustainable remedy against monkeys. So bugged were the citizens that monkeys became a poll issue last year.

Dr Poonam Minhas, a lecturer at Auckland House School, Shimla, said that the state government had plans to raise a ‘special brigade’ through the rural employment scheme to guard farms and chase the simians back into the woods. “This did not happen and the problem has grown manifolds. The idea was to include the appointment of crop protectors under the NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) programme,” she said. Minhas said Shimla attracts tourists from all over the world and the monkey menace leaves the visitors with bad memories, as many are harassed or even bitten by the simians.

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