Monkey-human conflicts on the rise in India
Himachal pradesh farmer Rajesh Bisht says he does not believe in the popular Hindi proverb Bandar kya jaane adrak ka swad (What does a monkey know about ginger’s taste) as he stands in his ginger plantation at 4 AM to guard against wild monkeys. Marching through the slush in his leech-infested field on a cold July morning, the resident from Chaukha village in Sirmaur district says farmers take turns to guard against wild animals.
At 10 AM, Ramesh Verma, a retired animal husbandry official who now does farming in Chaukha village, hurries from his farm to attend a meeting called at the sarpanch’s residence to address the issue of monkey menace. Monkeys had destroyed his entire corn plantation last year. “I had invested Rs 50,000 to plant corn on my 1.2-hectare (ha) farm. Monkeys completely destroyed it,” he says. Ironically, the drawing room where the meeting is convened has a big Hanuman calendar on its wall. “We worship Hanuman but these monkeys are not his descendants. They belong to the evil monkey king Bali who was slain by Lord Ram,” clarifies Chaukha’s sarpanch Mandakini Devi. Verma says that livelihood is more important than religious beliefs. “Our ancestors warned us that the day monkeys start raiding crops, you know apocalypse has arrived,” he says.
While Verma’s prediction of an apocalypse may appear farfetched, it is safe to assume that monkeys have left a substantial dent in the state’s agriculture production capacity. According to the National Institute of Disaster Management, Himachal Pradesh loses farm produce worth Rs 500 crore annually due to wild animals, including monkeys. The crop loss figure is higher than what the state spends on agriculture every year. The state’s budgetary allocation for agriculture for 2015-16 is Rs 450 crore.
O P Bhuraita, convenor of Shimla-based farmers’ rights group, Kheti Bachao Andolan, says the state lost crops worth Rs 2,200 crore due to monkeys between 2007 and 2012. “This includes the cost of diverting labour from farming to keeping a watch over the fields,” he says. Between 1990 and 2004 the number of monkeys in Himachal Pradesh increased from 61,000 to 317,000—a five-fold increase, according to the state wildlife department. The onslaught by monkeys remains high despite desperate measures by the state government, which has tried everything from culling to sterilising monkeys.
Himachal Pradesh is one example of how bad the situation is in the country. From Jammu and Kashmir in the north to Karnataka in the south, several states in the country are struggling to contain assaults by monkeys (see ‘Cost of menace’). In 2013, Jammu and Kashmir agriculture minister, G H Mir, issued a statement that said 250 villages in Jammu lose farm produce worth Rs 33 crore every year because of attacks by wild monkeys.
The story of Uttarakhand is equally bad with village residents opting to sell their farmlands than grow crops. One such village that falls in Dehradun district is Fulsaini, where close to 50 per cent of cultivable land lies fallow because of destruction by wild animals such as monkeys. Fulsaini’s sarpanch, Amit Kala, says a majority of the land that is still under cultivation is owned by a Delhi-based farm developer because many residents sold their farms at a throwaway price after monkeys started attacking their farms.
In 2010, farmers in two of Bihar’s worst-affected constituencies—Chainpur and Saharsha—formed an association, Bandar Mukti Abhiyan Samiti, to pressurise politicians to act. More than 50,000 farmers in the two constituencies lose crops every year because of monkey attacks.
In Karnataka, farmers lost crops worth Rs 5 crore in 2010 because of monkeys, according to the state’s agricultural department data. Media reports suggest that crop loss because of monkeys has increased in the state in the past five years, even though no government data is available. However, state forest department data suggests that close to 800 small farmers gave up cultivation in the Karkala taluka near Mangalore after monkeys destroyed 75 per cent of crops in the area in 2012. As a result, over 57 ha of fertile land lies fallow in the taluka today. “Traditionally, farmers assume that around 10 per cent of the produce will get destroyed by wild animals. But what do you do when the entire crop gets destroyed,” asks Verma.
Havoc in the city
Not just village residents, city dwellers are also struggling to cope with monkey menace. According to the Primate Research Centre, Jodhpur, which is one of the three Union government-run institutes on primates, more than 1,000 cases of monkey bites are reported every day in Indian cities. The other two national primate institutes are located in Mysore and Bengaluru. Almost all cities with high monkey population have abundant stories of monkeys “encroaching and destroying” property and “robbing” people. In Varanasi, monkeys have literally derailed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plans of making the city wi-fi-enabled. City officials say monkeys regularly chew the optical fibre cables that have been laid for the scheme. They are now planning to lay the cables underground.
Monkeys are wreaking havoc even in the capital. Former deputy mayor of Delhi, S S Bajwa, fell from his terrace and died in 2007 after monkeys attacked him. Monkeys have also laid siege on open areas of several Delhi restaurants, including the famous India Coffee House. “We warn our customers not to sit outside because of monkeys. At times, 30 to 40 monkeys attack together and our waiters have to use firecrackers to disperse them,” says restaurant manager Satish. In Chandigarh, a frustrated local administration issued an advisory to its citizens educating them on how to handle monkeys in 2013. In Shimla, residents have covered their water tanks with barbed wires to prevent monkeys from taking a dip. Haridwar residents refer to monkeys as bhikhari bandar or monkey beggars because they are often found near beggars and steal from people. Even the holy towns of Vrindavan and Mathura are struggling, where local newspapers regularly report stories of monkey attacks.