Monday, August 15, 2011

Losing the monkey wars in India

From the beginning this blog has been on top of the worldwide macaque problem. These monkeys make trouble everyplace in the world where they live close to humans - we've read about them in Singapore and Japan, but most of all in India, where the problem is compounded by the fact that they are considered sacred, limiting efforts to control them.

The problems with encouraging these monkeys should be obvious to everyone. As a recent report describes it:
More than 90 per cent carry tuberculosis, they swarm central government offices, prowl the landings, and bite through essential internet cables. Many attack people carrying food and even residents relaxing on their verandahs. Delhi's former deputy mayor was killed when he was attacked by a macaque on his apartment balcony and fell to his death.

How do people react to this unarguably bad behavior? Many continue to feed these creatures as a way to honor the god Hanuman. And as we were reminded recently, even when they're invading a hospital, the only culturally acceptable way they've come up with to control this population of well-nourished hooligans is to to rely on the help of other monkeys.

This approach is working about as well as readers of this blog should expect. Langur monkeys led around on a leash are supposed to frighten away the marauding macaques, but for one thing - and are we surprised? - these primates sometimes turn on humans themselves.

And now, it appears that the technique is losing effectiveness - the macaques are losing their fear of the langurs. Even more worrying, they've realized that they have an advantage over a team of one langur and one human:

Anuradha Sawney, a member of the Animal Welfare Board of India and owner of a monkey sanctuary just outside New Delhi, said the macaque's increasing boldness was down to its growing numbers in Delhi and its capacity to adapt to changing circumstances.

"If there are a lot of macaques the group will be strong and they will not be afraid to fight," she said.

But that's not the worst of it. Also, says one voice from the trenches of the monkey wars, they're starting to think ahead:

Diljan Ali, a langur handler, complained that the government hires monkey men to confront the macaques but refuses to compensate them when their animals are defeated. "(The macaques) are very smart. They know when they have the advantage. They attack in numbers and when they do it's pre-planned."

We'll keep an eye on this developing story... let's hope the world primate uprising stays in the movies where it belongs.

In that photo from The Telegraph, note the monkey sitting on top of the cage. They're not that easy to fool.

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