Monkeys may swing elections, but Delhi doesn’t want them
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2007:
DELHI–“Marauding monkeys and the chaos they spread across
New Delhi” were “an important issue” in the April 2007 municipal
elections, reported Rahul Bedi of The Daily Telegraph.
But the outcome for monkeys was not apparent in the election
results, because no party really seems to have a politically viable
and popular solution.
Members of the Congress Party most flamboyantly campaigned against
“the monkey menace.” The Congress Party recommended raising a
“monkey army” of chained languors, to roust the smaller and much
more abundant rhesus macaques who cause most of the monkey trouble.
Indeed, chained languors are at times employed successfully
to guard specific locations for limited times–but apart from the
humane issues involved in capturing and training them, they are
often the losers when troupes of macaques gang up and counter-attack.
Few politicians other than former federal minister for animal
welfare Maneka Gandhi advocate leaving street dogs alone, to chase
off monkeys as they have for centuries. But several Delhi citizens
gave testimony to Bedi suggesting that urbanized macaques have become
a much bigger threat than street dogs ever were, except possibly in
potential for carrying rabies, and macaques can transmit rabies too,
“Bands of monkeys routinely lay siege to our house, forcing
us to keep the doors locked and to remain vigilant at all times,”
testified Perminder Kaur of west Delhi.
Added fellow Delhi resident Shakuntla Devi, “If even one
monkey manages to get inside, it takes hours to get rid of him.
They often bite children and create untold damage.”
Wrote Bedi, “Efforts by Delhi’s municipality to rid the city
of the destructive animals are hampered by the majority Hindu
religious sentiment that associates monkeys with the god Hanuman,
who helped Lord Rama defeat Ravana, the evil king who reigned over
what is now Sri Lanka. Novel methods of chasing them away with ultra
high frequency loudspeakers, deporting them to neighboring states,
or transporting them to India’s only monkey jail in Patiala, 200
miles north of Delhi, too have failed. Nobody wants Delhi’s
monkeys: they have enough of their own.
“For nearly five decades,” Bedi continued, “monkeys have
also held sway in New Delhi’s corridors of power,” including the
buildings that “house, amongst others, the prime minister’s office
and the defense, finance, and home ministries. Tough wire meshing
stretches across the windows of the Indian army chief’s office to
protect the head of the world’s third largest and nuclear-armed
military from monkeys.”
Bedi did not mention that the Delhi monkey problem began with
efforts to remove street dogs from the then newly designated national
capital. But the Delhi street dog and monkey issues have often been
linked, albeit without recognition that they are not just parallel
The Delhi High Court, for instance, recommended in 2002
that the city “shall eradicate or at least minimize the problem of
stray dogs, stray cattle, and monkeys.”
Roundups of dogs and cattle followed, leaving the Delhi food
sources more accessible to the monkeys, who proved much harder to
On February 21, 2007 the Delhi High Court gave the city 10
days to start trapping monkeys and relocating them to the Asola
wildlife sanctuary in South Delhi, and “directed the government to
build a steep wall around the place in the sanctuary where the
monkeys would be shifted, to prevent them from returning to the
city,” The Hindu reported.
The orders came one week after the monkey business was
returned to the High Court from the Supreme Court of India, which
declined responsibility for deciding what to do with the
fast-expanding urban monkey population.
Like raccoons, the North American native mammal occupying
the most similar habitat niche, monkeys tend to gather in greater
numbers where food is abundant. Thus both monkeys and raccoons live
at concentrations up to 50 times greater in urban areas with adequate
sleeping trees than in their native forest habitat.
This in turn thwarts relocation schemes.
“In accordance with directions issued by the Supreme Court in
April 2004,” summarized The Hindu, “the Madhya Pradesh government
accepted 250 monkeys from the Delhi government. Subsequently, in
October 2006, the Supreme Court gave further direction that 300 more
monkeys kept in Delhi be translocated to Madhya Pradesh. Annoyed at
this order, the Madhya Pradesh government filed an affidavit
expressing its inability to accept the 300 monkeys, as its forests
were already overcrowded with the monkeys received in 2004.”
Five other states in northern India have also refused to
accept the Delhi monkeys.
That left Delhi chief monkey catcher Nand Lal no option but
to keep the monkeys he caught in “an overcrowded shed on the
outskirts of the city, which animal charities have described as a
‘monkey prison,'” summarized Main Ridge of the South China Morning
Frustrated and catching flak from all sides, after holding many of
the monkeys for more than a year, Lal quit.
Still unresolved are years of litigation by Common Cause
attorney Meira Bhatia, leading efforts to banish the monkeys, and a
case filed by Friendicoes SECA founder Geeta Sheshmani, seeking to
expedite the monkeys’ release into natural habitat.