Relocation of monkeys in Delhi good for everybody

Published: Saturday 31 March 2007

the Delhi High Court has finally taken a stand on the translocation of the substantial monkey population in the capital. It has directed the government to round up the monkeys in mammoth cages and transport them to the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary along the southern fringes of the city. Reactions to the plan have been mixed. While the animal welfare community is by and large supportive, primatologists have panned it. Primatologists have argued that relocation plans risk fragmenting established groups and that, given the strong bonds known to exist within simian aggregations, this can create social and clinical pathologies. Suggestions from non-official quarters that some captured monkeys be given to establishments for scientific research has not gone down well with animal rights activists.

There probably is no incontestable solution every plan is bound to have its share of holes, given the widely divergent vantages from which logistical, ethical and practical issues are addressed. But this much seems obvious that it is not particularly helpful to say that bands of monkeys move to cities in search of food only when urban expansion destroys their natural habitats, though there is not much room for doubt that this diagnosis is, in fact, true. It is especially unhelpful because urban expansion has an irresistible, irreversible momentum. Working out a modus vivendi between Delhiites and their simian neighbours is actually the matter that must be addressed with great urgency. That makes the ongoing judicial intervention welcome, even if the nostrums prescribed by the court are not foolproof.

What makes a translocation plan essential is that we are not confronted with a zero-sum game. Meaning what is good for one is not necessarily obtained at a corresponding cost for the other. In fact, it is arguable that getting monkeys--and other stray animals cattle and dogs, for instance--off the streets is advantageous for both humans and the animals. For the animals, it means freedom from a hostile and inhospitable environment, where even food comes at huge costs, not least of which are those relating to morbidity and mortality. For city dwellers, it means freedom from aggravation and worse, as the recent fatal mauling of an infant by stray dogs in Bangalore gruesomely showed. Having said that, a word of caution. Issues of trans-species equity and logistical sanity must inform any relocation programme.

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