As children one was occasionally treated to a Bandar ka Tamasha and the antics of these distant cousins entertained us no end. The monkeys that one saw enacting the roles of a newly married couple, whose conjugal relationship deteriorated within 10 minutes to a life of dreary middle class existence, belonged invariably to the Rhesus (Macaca mulatto) family. We owe a lot to these distant cousins, including the discovery of the RH factor in our own blood. This 1940 discovery has probably saved millions of lives and whether one believes in their being closely related to lord Hanuman or not, we are indebted to these simians.
The joy of watching the Bandar ka Tamasha is now a thing of the past, thanks to the animal rights activists and a certain Gandhi, no longer part of the first family of Indian politics. The use of these monkeys for medical research was also stopped through the active interventions of the same agencies. As a result of these ‘animalitarian concerns’ the ‘poor multinational drug cartels’ are forced to test their new concoctions on black, brown and other coloured populations of higher primates living on the fringes of ‘civilization’ in the third world. I wonder why the animalists do not protests against this violation of human rights. After all humans are also animals, that, however, is another story; we plan to confine ourselves to monkey business as understood by their more evolved cousins.
When, as per the book of creation, God made this world, he created all manner of beasts and provided food for them through the agency of trees, grasses, fruits, nuts and seeds, some animals fed on this bounty while others ate up these lesser animals to develop a fairly organised food chain. The forests were populated with both kinds of animals and there was provision for food close at hand, no one worked for a living in those days and there was no need to travel long distances for work.
It has been said that the devil is in the details and the devil found one that had escaped the attention of the creator. God, while creating Adam, had not defined a territory for the human ape. The more adventurous among them soon tired of an existence that presented them with little intellectual stimulus and began to move down from the trees, before you could say pithecanthropus erectus, the homo erectus had evolved, the rest, as the wise ape said, is history.
The monkeys and other animals continued to live in the forests that god had assigned them, but the thinking monkey wanted more of everything so forests were chopped down for agriculture and more recently for malls. As the intellectual ape began to encroach on territories that were not his, he began to shape them to his requirements and that is where this monkey business began.
Before coming in close and constant contact with the human ape, the Macaca mulatto lived a life that followed a rhythm that is vastly different from what we observe in the Monkeys that we are so now desperately trying to remove from our neighbourhoods.
According to Thomas P. Gordon (Yerkes Regional Primate Research Centre- Emory University Atlanta, Georgia ) the female Rhesus monkey is capable of producing one young per year under good conditions.
Animal Diversity Web University of Michigan Museum of Zology.
He goes on to say that Populations that live in areas where the winters are cold, mate in the fall; those that live where seasonal changes are less pronounced have less well defined mating seasons. The average length of the gestation period was observed to be 165 days (variation between 133 to 200 days) it was also observed that the mother feeds her offspring for almost a year.
For more on the Rhesus monkeys see Encyclopaedia Britannica rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta,), Science 28 November 1969: Vol. 166. no. 3909, pp. 1176 – 1178, Stephen H. Vessey, John A. Morrison – Molt in Free-Ranging Rhesus Monkeys, Macaca mulatta , Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 51, No. 1 (Feb., 1970), pp. 89-93 and
What does the phrase: under good conditions (emphasis mine) imply? My reading of the phrase is the following: good conditions would mean plenty of food and water and normal weather- conditions that encourage mating and the availability of food in plenty. The latter ensures better chances of survival for both the mother and the offspring. In India the mating season will be spring and early summer; this would ensure that the little bundles of joy will arrive in the latter half of monsoons. It has been observed elsewhere that in conditions of scarcity of food, animals do not reproduce as often as they do in conditions of plenty.
The idea behind quoting the above study is to argue that in conditions of plenty of food being available through the year, the females will reproduce more often than they would have otherwise. I think that the unmanageable numbers of the simians in Delhi is a direct consequence of monkeys being fed constantly.
This wide spread practice of feeding monkeys three square meals a day, that seems to be gathering momentum with the speed of an advancing tsunami, has been triggered, without any doubt in my mind, by a combination of born again ostentatious religiosity and the availability of more disposable wealth in the hands of the upper middle classes.
Monkeys are not the only recipients of this largess, so much sugar is being fed to the ants in the Sanjay Van opposite Vasant Kunj that I‘ll not be surprised if they have already become diabetic. Peacocks and pigeons have been fed so much bajra and maize that they have stopped foraging for food. Cows are gorging themselves on plastic bags full of left over rotis to such an extent that they are dying of plastic stuck in their intestines. One pregnant cow that was found dead inside the Asola wild life sanctuary had 35 Kg of plastic bags inside her digestive tract. This was discovered when Jackals had finished their feast with her carcass. The food remained inside the Plastic bags and the plastic killed her.
For the last 200 years or so we have systematically disrupted the ecological links that sustained forests and those who lived in the forests, including the tribal populations who did not kill animals for joy. The natural vegetation of the forests and of the urban areas was rudely disturbed by the British through the introduction of Mexican mesquite (Prosopis Juliflora) around a 100 years ago, First in Bengal and the Ghats and later in other parts including the Arravalis.
The tree has spread like a weed wiping out a large bank of indigenous vegetation and destroying the berries like Khirni, Jamun, Ber, Jangal Jalebi, Goolar, Peepal, pilkhan and others that sustained both birds and animals, either directly or through a complex food chain. Human Populations have encroached on the forest and the Monkeys, Kites and crows have been forced out to become scavengers.
Disturbed by this simian onslaught the municipal authorities, the state government and the court have tried quick fix solutions that include catching them and sending them to Madhya Pradesh. Monkey Catchers were imported from Tamil Nadu, After protests by animal lovers more simian friendly cages was designed for trapping and transporting the primates. Monkeys were caught and transported to the Asola reserve forest, The conservator of forests was ordered to raise the retaining wall to a height of 10 Meters, in order to keep the monkeys inside.
The government, ‘sensitive to the religious sentiments’ of the populace that were getting seriously hurt because the law now made monkey feeding an unlawful activity, offered to collect edible titbits brought by the devout and to transport them to Asola
Understandably, most of these solutions have come unstuck; the government of M.P. was offered a grand sum of rupees 50 Lakh per annum to arrange food for the monkeys, after initially accepting the offer the M.P. administration has refused to continue and wants nothing to do with Delhi Monkeys. The wall around Asola can be raised only after a heavy expenditure and the conservator of forests is short of funds. People want to feed the monkeys themselves and receive their blessings. They certainly do not want the government to corner all the blessings by merely paying for the transport. Meanwhile the Monkeys keep jumping out of asola and raiding the neighbouring slums and villages. We have changed their food habits for good, They do not eat berries even if they are available and Asola, which is a degraded forest in any case, has precious little of these.
Dr Iqbal Malik, who has spent a life time studying the Rhesus and other monkeys of Delhi, has explained at great length the care that needs to be exercised while trapping monkeys. The rappers have to ensure that an entire group that lives together is trapped at one go, any members that are left out are not welcomed by other groups and are in fact attacked and shunned. The strays loose their social moorings and soon turn into vicious rogue monkeys.
The monkeys that go around biting and attacking people do not discriminate between those that feed and venerate them and those that do not. The death of a deputy mayor seems to have stirred the MCD into some action and the blame game between the “Govt of the National Capital Territory of Delhi” and the MCD has started all over again. More drastic knee jerk solutions are going to be put forward and buried with as much alacrity with which they would be thrown up in the first place.
The net result of the entire Bandar Bhagao Abhiyan has been to relocate monkeys from the VIP district to Asola. We have suddenly increased their numbers around Batra Hospital, in Sangam Vihar, in Tughlaqabad, in Talimabad, In Kalkaji in Bhati mine area and in Badarpur. There is in fact a more than 25% increase in case of Monkey Bites in these areas. Monkeys are rabid and we do not have enough vaccine in the city. No one cares. These areas like the walled city and the trans Yamuna areas are not top of the mind recall locations for the rich and famous of the capital and monkey bites here do not become breaking news on 24X7 purveyors of inane gossip.
The time has come, if you ask me, to stop feeding the monkeys, to sterilise them systematically and to undertake culling. If none of this is possible let us all barricade ourselves in our houses and pray.