Last week, a protest broke out in Badnawar, India – a response to a rogue monkey that has been menacing the town. The simian’s victim count has reached 10 and includes Nathuram, a 60-year-old man who tragically died as a result of his injuries.
India’s macaque population is part of a large and growing problem caused by human infringement on their territory and the monkeys’ wily resourcefulness. As Gizmodo recently reported, there were 86 reports of monkey harassments between 2017 and 2018. And that was just in the state of Himachal Pradesh.
In other parts of the country, monkeys have been caught stealing money, snatching food, and vandalizing infrastructure. Not even India’s elected officials are safe, with gangs of simians taking over areas of land around parliament and other government buildings. Sometimes this misbehavior turns fatal. In one particularly harrowing incident, a monkey broke into a family home and kidnapped a 12-day-old baby. The infant did not survive his injuries.
In response to the crimes, officials are turning to large-scale sterilization programs. This policy began in 2006 when Himachal Pradesh became the first state in the country to introduce surgical sterilization measures for rhesus monkeys. The hope was that it would reduce their numbers and reduce human-monkey conflict. There are currently eight centers operating in the state, which sterilized more than 140,000 individual monkeys between 2006 and 2018.
But the plan is not just ineffective, it appears to be backfiring. While the macaque population in Himachal Pradesh has declined (from 317,512 in 2004 to 207,614 in 2015), this hasn’t had much of an impact on the number of violent incidents, Gizmodo reports.
These surprising stats may come down to the style of the sterilization program, primatologist and environmental activist Iqbal Malik told the publisher. The program appears to disturb the macaques’ community, possibly making it harder for individual monkeys to fit in when reintroduced and forcing the ostracized to locate food elsewhere, drawing them closer to human settlements.
“The rhesus macaques, generally speaking, are a harmless and peaceful species,” she explained, though the program may be making them more violent. It’s possible that the capture, treatment, and release of the monkeys is contributing to the problem.
Aside from the sterilization program itself, the principal driver of this rivalry is the industrial-scale deforestation that is removing their natural habitat. Just as with elephants and tigers, rapid deforestation is pushing monkeys closer and closer to human settlements. That includes India’s Capital, New Delhi.
What’s more, the quantity of readily available food makes urban living an attractive prospect for some monkeys. Combine this with a desensitization to human contact and it’s not much of a surprise that you have gangs of antisocial monkeys on your hands. (Hence, advice not to feed – or stare at – the macaques.)
The Indian government is considering other options, including a technique called immunocontraception – a more temporary form of sterilization. But as long as monkeys and humans are forced to live side-by-side, it doesn’t look like this conflict is going to go away any time soon.
As for the rogue monkey of Badnawar, officials caught the monkey within three hours of the protest.