//Monkey business in Delhi

Monkey business in Delhi

Finacial Times , Deutch Land,

von Jo Johnson (New Delhi)

The man-monkey conflict is intensifying in India, but Hindu faith rules out gorilla warfare. Environmentalists say the problem is not the rising number of monkeys but the increase in the urban population.
    
Softly softly catchee monkey" is all very well, but for Delhi finding a home for hundreds of Rhesus macaques that have been rounded up in snatch raids across the Indian capital is proving a real difficulty.

Overcrowding at a special monkey prison at Rajokari on the outskirts of the city is causing headaches for the authorities, which are under pressure to comply with a 2004 Supreme Court order requiring the city to be monkey-free.

The state of Madhya Pradesh this week filed an objection to a court order requiring it to take a shipment of 300 Delhi monkeys, arguing that they would run amok in villages and spread diseases among humans. An earlier batch of 250 Delhi monkeys released in the forest of Palpur Kuno near Gwalior had been "creating problems" for locals and had upset the ecological balance of their new habitat by eating birds' eggs, the state government said.

Last month Himachal Pradesh turned down monkey shipments and four other states may follow suit, which might force Delhi to use its meagre resources for infrastructure development in the form of building more monkey prisons.

Man-monkey conflict is intensifying, with an estimated 100 people a day being bitten across the country. Extermination drives are not a serious option because of the popularity among many Hindus of Hanuman, a deity with simian features.

Since India banned the export of monkeys for medical experimentation in 1978, its Rhesus macaque population has soared from 200,000 to over 500,000 in 1999, with more than half of them living in human habitations.

Environmentalists say the problem is not the rising number of monkeys but the increase in the urban population and its encroachment on forest land. Delhi's human population increased by 50 per cent to 13.8m between 1991 and 2001.

"There is an increase in man-monkey conflicts and in the absence of a management plan of both forests and commensal monkeys, the problem of man-monkey conflict is only going to increase," says Dr Ikbal Malik, a primatologist.

"Building more monkey prisons would not be the answer at all. The construction of the cage was one of many many things that the government has done wrong. We need monkey sanctuaries across the country."

Most government offices in Delhi have opted for a direct approach. Although keeping leashed monkeys is illegal, many have chained langurs, an aggressive species of monkey that is used to scare away the Rhesus.