Wildlife & Biodiversity

Himachal farmers now poisoning monkeys

Farmers have confirmed this development, which means the whole issue takes an entirely new dimension

By Rajeev Khanna
Published: Wednesday 28 August 2019
Farmers in Himachal Pradesh have now taken to poisoning monkeys. Photo: Getty Images

The battle against the menace of monkeys in Himachal Pradesh is becoming more complex, with farmers now resorting to poisoning them.

While individual farmers from Solan and Sirmaur districts have disclosed that they have indeed poisoned monkeys, many confirmed this at a recent two-day farmers’ event.

During the recent two-day state level meeting of the Kisan Sabha, farmers came forward to report that the poisoning of monkeys is indeed going on in the four districts of Shimla, Solan, Sirmaur and Una.

“There is no count or scientific study as yet about how many monkeys have been killed by this method,” pointed out senior Kisan Sabha leader Kuldeep Tanwar.

However, the principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), Savita, said her department had not received any such report. “If we get any such information, we will investigate the matter and take required steps immediately.”

The unscientific killings have raised concerns about its consequences. For instance, consumption of the carcass of a poisoned monkey can lead to health problems for the animal or bird eating it.

Secondly, there is always the possibility of other animals consuming the poisoned bait. Besides, what would happen if the poisoned monkey dies near a water source? There is also concern about the decomposed, poisoned carcass causing disease among animals and also humans.

Why the extreme step?

While there have been multiple cases of monkeys posing a threat to the population, particularly the aged and the children, residing in cities like Shimla, the worst has always been in store for the farmers.

Over the last several years, monkeys have been destroying the agriculture produce, thus threatening the livelihood of the farming community. In several places, farmers even gave up growing maize, wheat and several other crops including fruits.

Recent reports in the region point out that the menace of monkeys is spread over 2,500 panchayats in 10 districts. The losses resulting from damage caused to agriculture and horticulture produce has been reportedly pegged at over Rs 500 crore per annum.

The culling of monkeys was first allowed by the Centre in 38 tehsils in 2016. In February this year, the Centre accepted the proposal to add 53 more tehsils to this list.

From May 2016 to February 2019, when they were declared vermin in 38 tehsils, only five monkeys were officially killed. The reasons why the culling could not take place are multiple.

First, there is the religious angle, as many observant Hindus would desist from killing a monkey. Politicians too played on this sentiment to run down the efforts of progressive groups that have been fighting to get rid of the menace lest the latter gain mileage in public perception.

Besides, there is the question as to who would shoot them? Kisan Sabha leaders have been pointing that a farmer cannot be expected to shoot accurately and he, in any case, does not have the economic capacity to bear the high ammunition cost.

Even those farmers having licensed arms cannot be expected to go out killing monkeys when they have not lifted guns for the last more than three decades since hunting was banned.

“The dilemma facing the rural population, particularly the women, has always been to choose between monkeys and livelihood. Thankfully, they have always stood for the latter,” said activist Pyare Lal Verma, who has worked for years to get the monkeys declared as vermin.

So where lies the solution? “The rural and urban development departments must constitute squads of trained shooters at panchayat and also urban levels. The members of these squads can be ex-servicemen,” Tanwar said.

He added that these departments need to step in since the forest department has taken refuge under the plea that its mandate is to save wildlife, not kill it. “But we also want to point out that after all, it is the forest department that has got the monkeys declared vermin,” he added.

“The culling has to be scientific. A requisite number of healthy monkeys are definitely required to maintain the ecological balance,” said Tanwar, who himself was a forester once.

He further said that the ban on export of monkeys needed to be lifted by the Centre. “The ban was put in place against their use in military and space research. But we want the export for bio-medical research,” he said.

Former Principal Chief Conservative of Forest (Wildlife) Lalit Mohan ruled out shooting as a good option. “It is not easy to kill them with guns. Most of the times they get injured and this causes other problems as they move away. But now, since the people have the right to kill them and if they are being poisoned, the proper disposal of carcasses needs to be ensured,” he said.

Mohan agreed with Tanwar’s assertion about the Centre reviving monkeys’ export. “It may be a petty matter for them but for the people and the state it is something of utmost importance.”

He disclosed that some years back, officials had come up with a proposal to have huge enclosures for sterilised monkeys where non-profits could provide food for them but the idea was not taken forward.

Many feel that sterilisation, which has been going on for more than one decade, is a fool-proof method to deal with the menace. They contend that the population of monkeys has declined, but the desired results could not be achieved because they had targeted just 30 per cent of the monkey population.

“There have to be innovations in catching the monkeys for sterilisation where females are targeted for a two-minute operation. The monkeys recognise our vehicle and team. Just a shriek from one of them is enough to send the rest scampering,” sterilisation expert Sandeep Rattan had pointed out to this reporter some months back. 

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