Tag Archives: Iqbal Malik



by Paul Watson
Los Angeles Times
May 21, 2001

Demigods shouldn’t have to suffer the indignities that India’s monkeys do these days.

More than 5,000 monkeys roam the streets, and trees, of this capital city, and to the country’s Hindu majority, each one is sacred–although it’s getting harder to tell with so many Indians bad-mouthing them.

Monkeys may be the earthly legions of the Lord Hanuman, the monkey god, but they are also marauding gangs accused of stealing everything from food to sensitive government files, pulling off women’s clothing, and even killing people.

It’s all quite upsetting for one of India’s leading primatologists, Iqbal Malik, who blames humans–especially the species sitting behind government desks–for letting New Delhi’s monkeys get hooked on the good life.

“That is when gods become pests,” Malik, 49, said. “And that is when people begin thinking: ‘What to do with them? Kill them. Shoot them. Stone them.’ That starts an aggressive reaction [from the monkeys], a vicious circle.”

Relations between man and monkey got really bad in 1999, when the government hired men with trained langur monkeys to chase hundreds of slightly smaller rhesus monkeys away from government buildings, where they were sneaking into offices and pilfering Foreign Ministry files.

A year ago, a monkey was accused of killing a New Delhi resident by dropping a flowerpot on his head.

Things got worse last week, when rumors about a half-man, half- monkey attacking people in their sleep caused a panic among the poor of east Delhi’s crowded slums.

Newspapers and TV jumped at the chance to report on something more gripping than the usual fare of corrupt politicians, constant blackouts, various insurgencies and the 115-degree heat.

Drawings compared the police version of the monkey-man–a4-foot- 6 creature covered in dark hair–to witness descriptions that put him closer to 5-foot-6, with long steel claws, black clothes and a motorcycle helmet.

Because the monkey-man reportedly attacked only sleeping people in the dead of night, actual sightings were hard to come by. One man who claimed that he had looked the monkey-man straight in the eye said the beast immediately turned into a cat and ran away.

Leading Hindu nationalists insisted that the military intelligence agency in Pakistan had sent the monkey-man in a sinister plot to destabilize India. Several members of Parliament demanded that the government send in crack paramilitary units to catch the ape-man.

The normally staid Times of India joined in Wednesday with a front-page headline that screamed: “Monkeyman’s Reign of Terror in Capital Growing Daily.”

New Delhi’s police force has deployed 1,000 officers, many of them posted on rooftops, in a special operation to trap the monkey- man. Unofficially, police insist that he is just a figment of the imagination.

But officially, police spokesman Ravi Pawar said there is something more to it, because people are turning up with scratch marks.

“It’s a mischief-monger,” Pawar said. “We are sure to get him.” Police arrested more than a dozen pranksters calling in sightings of the monkey-man over the weekend and are offering a reward exceeding $1,000 for the capture of the monster–or the guy in the monkey suit.

So many residents are convinced that the monkey-man is real, at least two people have died trying to escape him: In the latest incident, a 21-year-old pregnant woman fell down a staircase to her death Tuesday night when a reported sighting of the monkey-man set off a stampede.

In a front-page analysis of the monkey-man phenomenon, the Hindustan Times suggested that it’s all about poor people fed up with daily blackouts lasting 10 hours and running water that’s on only an hour each day.

According to the rapidly developing lore, light wards off the monkey-man, and a splash of water on his chest drains his power to leap.

For years, government officials have done little to fix the supplies of electricity and water, but now that they are supposed weapons against the monkey-man, there suddenly is a steady supply of both throughout the night in the slums where the monkey-man is said to prowl.

Malik sees the roots of Delhi’s monkey craze in the ruin of India’s environment.

The trouble started in the late 1980s, when a combination of shrinking forests, water shortages and the illegal trapping of wild primates for medical research set off a steady migration of monkeys to the city.

Twenty years ago, only 30% of India’s monkeys lived among people in cities, Malik said. The number is closer to 60% today, she said. New Delhi’s rhesus monkey population quickly climbed past the sustainable level of about 2,000.

The monkey god, Hanuman, is one of the most important deities in the Hindu pantheon, and devout Hindus often feed monkeys in the belief that the animals will give them good luck, heal the sick or help overcome any obstacle.

Although an adult monkey has the intelligence of a 2-year-old human, the animals are smart enough to know a good thing when they see it. So they take up permanent residence in the city and, before long, start to push their luck.

“They all want to climb the social hierarchy,” Malik said. “One way is to show to peers they are smarter, or can do things other monkeys can’t do–like pulling off a [woman’s] sari. It’s just showing off.”

Shyam Nath, an ex-tailor now in the monkey management business, used his gray-and-black langur monkey, Raju, and a cane, to scare off about 500 monkeys that were running amok in a government complex. Now he hopes for a call to take on the monkey-man of east Delhi.

“If he’s a monkey, I’m ready for him,” Nath said, as Raju chewed on a leathery fistful of leaves.

Tagged , , , , ,



by Pamela Constable
Washington Post
September 21, 1998

If you arrive at the Tughluqabad ruins even one minute after sunrise, you’re too late. Group leaders Hukka Singh and Ram Singh have already moved their troops out of the 13th-century fort and headed to a nearby military shooting range for breakfast.

The drill continues all day, with scheduled stops at various roadside banana stands and markets. Then, precisely at dusk, the group of wild rhesus monkeys lopes back to the ruins, scrambles up the parapets and starts settling down for the night amid the crumbling 700-year-old tombstones of King Ghiyas-ud-Din Tughluq and his family.

The monkeys of Tughluqabad are among the last of a breed that once roamed India’s forests by the millions. For much of this century, they were voraciously hunted and trapped for export, while their habitats were squeezed by urbanization. By 1983, according to animal activists, there were fewer than 200,000 left.

Today, despite a 1978 ban on exporting monkeys, thousands are still trapped each year for domestic medical and commercial research. They are widely used to test eye shadow and lipstick, rabies vaccines and birth control pills, as well as chemicals.

Yet many Indians revere the monkeys, and dozens of devotees come each day to Tughluqabad, just east of the old section of the capital, New Delhi, to feed the monkeys bread, nuts and bananas.

The visitors are worshipers of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god who is believed to bring strength and good luck. In the Ramayana, one of Hinduism’s great epics, Hanuman lifted a mountain to find a special herb that could save the life of his master, the god Rama.

“I come here for peace of mind,” said Ashook Jain, 38, a school principal who has been feeding the monkeys every day for 15 years. As he approached the ruins at dawn one recent day, he called out loudly, “Ough, ough,” and a dozen monkeys bounded down the walls. “These are bad times in India, and we need to have a powerful god on our side,” Jain said.

Just down the road, three men hopped off a motor scooter and began throwing bananas to another group of monkeys. They said they work in a shoe shop and make offerings on days when they are facing unusual business problems.

“Everyone has their favorite god, and the monkeys were our ancestors, too,” said the shop manager, Umesh Kumar, 23, as a chittering pack eagerly surrounded the scooter.

The Tughluqabad monkeys have full-time protectors, watchmen who sleep in the ruins and make sure no one harms them. They also have an influential champion in Iqbal Malik, a primatologist who spent years studying them. Often she took her son Vijay along, raising him, she said, “like a monkey mother, with lots of body contact but an instinctive sense of how much freedom to allow.”

Today Malik, 40, devotes most of her time to promoting animal rights, and she has arranged for thousands of urban monkeys to return and readapt to forest life. She also acknowledges that the monkeys can become a nuisance in densely populated areas.

“They get so used to being fed that they become aggressive. If you don’t feed them they will invade your house, raid your fridge, turn on your water tap,” she said. “If you try to kick them out, they may tear your clothes. They are extremely strong.”

They are also territorial. The five bands of Tughluqabad, totaling about 300 monkeys, have separate feeding areas and sleeping places. Within each band, members are highly sociable and respectful of rank, yet males often fight over food, choice sleeping places and females who defect to rival bands.

The monkeys also are spoiled rotten. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, which Hindu devotees say are auspicious times for making offerings to Hanuman, the Tughluqabad monkeys have been fed so many bananas and nuts by morning that they usually vanish to spend the rest of the day snoozing in the trees around the ruins.

“There is no point coming here those days,” cautioned Nanak Chand, a former watchman at Tughluqabad who used to sleep with monkeys curled around him and often returns to visit. “They won’t even bother to come down.”

Tagged , ,


The third instalment of Mr McGirk’s simian trilogy, after “Coming to Grips With All This Monkey Business” (1990) and “Police End Romeo’s Monkey Business” (1994).


by Tim McGirk
The Independent
June 7, 1996

If Rudyard Kipling were writing about India in the late 20th century, he might be tempted to change the Jungle Book around. Instead of having Mowgli, the man-cub, raised by wolves in the jungle, Kipling might be inclined to tell tales of the monkeys living in New Delhi who have become eerily human.

Monkeys and men have co-existed for so long in India that, inevitably, the primates have acquired some human traits. As Iqbal Malik, a primate specialist, explains, “In the forests, monkeys are shy creatures, but in the city they become very confident and quite aggressive. They will try to pull off a woman’s sari.”

You find monkeys riding public buses, like morning commuters. Wisely, they seem to mimic politicians in their choice of habitat and behaviour. While in Bombay they might take after businessmen, even a monkey is smart enough to figure out that in the capital, it is the politicians who are highest on the food-chain. You find thousands of monkeys living around the North and South Block bungalows used by the MPs.

Monkeys have even invaded the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the regal old viceroy’s palace which is now used by India’s president. They importune the president when he strolls through his rose gardens, and even his crack commando bodyguards, with their karate kicks, can’t shoo them away. And – just like MPs in any country – the monkeys periodically swagger into the government ministries, ripping out long-forgotten files and causing much fuss in whatever office they visit.

Urban living affects the monkeys the same way it affects humans: they become more aggressive and short-fused. In other words, monkeys in New Delhi experience road rage.

You don’t find monkeys driving – yet. But the commuting monkeys get just as exasperated with public transport as do Delhi-wallahs. Thus, one monkey hopped on the same bus every morning, chose the same seat and got off at the same stop. The other passengers were accustomed to this. One day, the monkey swung onto the bus as usual and found another commuter in his seat.

Using tact and gentle manners, the monkey politely tugged at the interloper and tried to get him to move. The man refused and committed the cardinal sin of primate etiquette: he looked the monkey straight in the eye. Never look a monkey straight in the eye. It’s even worse than laughing out loud at their shiny, red bums. You are challenging his dominance, begging him to sink his teeth into your face.

Need I say more? The monkey got his seat back.

This was not an isolated case of monkey road rage, either. A fortnight ago, bus number 260 pulled up outside the Railway Ministry near India Gate and, along with the other passengers, a monkey clambered aboard. The bus conductor happened to forget another rule of Monkey Dos and Don’ts: never resort to violence unless, mafia-style, you plan to exterminate the monkey and all its relatives, or you plan on leaving town immediately after. He messed with the monkey.

The next morning, the monkey was back at the Railway Ministry bus stop. Teeth bared, the monkey jumped onto every bus that halted until he found the one with his conductor. (There is a second version to this story, which appeared in the Indian Express, in which the monkey returns with reinforcements, a platoon of other male monkeys. This exaggeration could have been spread by the conductor himself. It is, after all, rather embarrassing to go one-on-one with a member of a squat, lower species and lose.)

This monkey did a very bright thing. He went for the driver first, knocking his hands off the wheel and forcing him to stop the bus. (I suspect that the the monkey picked up this trick from watching Keanu Reeves in Speed.) Once the bus was stationary, the monkey lunged at the conductor, who fled in panic. He took refuge in a jeep, but the monkey forced him out.

For the most vivid description, I quote the Indian Express: “The humiliated monkey went up to a cop, tapped him gently on the elbow and pointed at the locked car. Obligingly, the cop went to the locked car. . . and ordered the man to open up.”

Experts I’ve spoken to say this is nonsense. Ms Malik, the primate specialist, explained, “Monkeys are apprehensive about men wearing uniforms and boots.” Quite right. Monkeys, like people, have learned through bitter experience that asking a cop for help always leads to more trouble.

Anyway, this monkey slapped around the conductor, took bites out of a few painful places, and chased him into the railway ministry. From there, the injured conductor limped to hospital. Yesterday, the monkey was back outside the Railway ministry, pacing angrily. A betel-nut seller on the corner was sure he was waiting for the conductor

It’s a different kind of jungle out there from Mowgli’s.

Tagged , ,



by Chris Lefkow
Herald Sun (Australia)
December 30, 1993

NEW DELHI: Iqbal Malik is determined to put an end to the monkey business going on within the Indian Government. The soft-spoken 35-year-old woman is not a corruption-buster, however, but a zoologist with a plan to rid government offices of file-shredding and food-snatching monkeys.

Monkeys, which are sacred to India’s Hindus, have taken over the grounds of a number of downtown buildings, and Ms Malik, who earned a doctorate in animal behavior from Delhi University, has been called in to help repel the invasion.

The simians can be seen frolicking on the lawns of South Block, where the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s office are located, grooming one another on window ledges or badgering passers-by for handouts.

They have also been spotted climbing the walls of the presidential palace and raiding fruit trees in the palace nursery.

Ms Malik says about 5000 monkeys have taken up residence in the Indian capital, living in groups of six to more than 20.

She blames widespread trapping of monkeys for export and experimentation during the 1960s and 1970s for pushing them out of their natural habitat and into the cities.

The monkeys living in downtown New Delhi are indeed a pampered bunch, fed regularly by office workers with bananas, apples, nuts and the remains of picnic lunches.

The monkeys are revered by Hindus as the avatar of the monkey-faced god Hanuman, a hero of the Ramayana epic.

“They’re considered as gods,” said Ms Malik. “But gods become pests in a very short span of time.”

“They pull your clothes and demand food. Many offices have broken windows, so they enter. They tear files, they look into files, like spies. They’re very curious.” Low-voltage electric fencing, shrubbery with thorns, chemical repellants, sterilisation and guard dogs are among the recommendations Ms Malik has made to caretakers trying to make official buildings “monkey-proof”.

Tagged , , ,



by Tim McGirk
The Independent
November 24, 1990

NEW DELHI: One of the first visitors to The Independent’s India bureau swung in from a tree. He was a large red-faced monkey. He strolled around the room, saw there was nothing to eat and came out on to the veranda where I was sitting with the previous tenant, a Czechoslovak nurse. “Ah, yes, I almost forgot about the monkey,” she said nonchalantly, as it ambled over to our table. He was larger than my six-year-old boy and had fleas. “He likes to pee from the top of the stairs and watch it go cascading down,” the Czechoslovak, told my wife and me.

“Whatever you do,” advised my wife, “don’t smile at the monkey. He’ll think you’re baring your teeth at him. Act of aggression.”

“I wasn’t smiling,” I retorted. In fact, I was scheming how to rid myself of the monkey. It wouldn’t do to have visiting ambassadors and politicians hosed down with monkey urine. After that, I began noticing monkey stories in the newspapers. Monkeys pelting schoolchildren with stones; monkeys splashing in the swimming pool of a five-star hotel; and a troop of monkeys invading a hospital ward.

My first plan was to scare away the monkey. During the Hindu Diwali festival I bought a rocket so powerful that Saddam Hussein could have altered the balance of power in the Gulf with it. I fired the rocket straight into the garden tree from where the monkey had first arrived.

What if he came back? The monkey would no doubt consider that shooting a firework at him was an even more blatant act of aggression than smiling. I rang the Delhi Municipal Corporation and asked if they had a monkey catcher. Friends had told me that snared monkeys were released at the temples in the countryside, where they had a fine time stuffing themselves with offerings of bananas. But, inexplicably, the city authorities referred me to the Animal Research Centre at a medical teaching college. So I rang. “Is your home now being monkey molested?” a voice asked eagerly. “Not really. I’m a journalist.” When I said “journalist”, the telephone went dead. The Animal Research Centre was beginning to sound ominous.

My assistant, Benny, and I went to the Animal Research Centre to scout around. In the hallway there was a board listing the day’s experimental victims: rabbits, mice, guinea-pigs and . . . donkeys. Donkeys? Benny went out to the animal pens and could not find any donkeys. But he did find hundreds of caged monkeys. Some had had limbs amputated; others had been surgically tampered with: their heads and torsos were crudely stitched back together. These hacked-up monkeys were shunned by the others in the cages. I asked the research centre’s deputy director about his monkeys. “What monkeys? We haven’t got any monkeys,” he said. “Well, show me your donkeys, then.” He showed me to the door.

Later a zoologist, Iqbal Malik, who has been studying Delhi’s urban population of 5,000 monkeys, told me that the Hindus consider monkeys to be special beings, ranking with snakes and elephants. That’s because Hanuman, the monkey king, helped Lord Rama to get his kidnapped bride, Sita, back from the Demon King of Lanka. “If people found out that monkeys were being cut up for scientific experiments,” she said, “there would be a terrific uproar. That’s why the medical schools never admit to it.” She showed me a photo of a Muslim monkey catcher. He was dressed as a woman, in a bright sari. “Women appear less threatening to monkeys than men,” said Dr Malik.

I asked her why a large male monkey wanted to come and pee all over my stairway. It had occurred to me that perhaps this was the monkey’s way of marking off territory; any day I expected it to return with a troop of 50 fellow beasts. She assured me that this monkey was a loner.

“He’s probably quarrelled with the chief monkey, the alpha male, and lost his place in the hierarchy,” she said. “He’s been deprived of the best females, food and space, so he left.” I was starting to feel sorry about using the rocket.

At nightfall I drove to Tughlakabad, the ruins of a fortified 14th-century city the high stone walls of which had withstood everything but the curse of a Sufi saint. Only monkeys and owls would ever live in Tughlakabad, the Muslim mystic had predicted, and he was correct. It was too early for owls when I arrived but a Sikh on a Vespa stopped and walked up to the base of the fortress wall, tossing bananas on the ground. The monkeys came, cart-wheeling and swinging down the ancient wall.

I’m sure the monkeys would have recognised the smile on the Sikh’s face as a smile.

Tagged , , ,



by Rone Tempest
Los Angeles Times
December 5, 1987

NEW DELHI: Donna Hughes and her 2-year-old son were driving contentedly down a major New Delhi avenue recently singing one of their favorite nursery rhymes:

Bah, bah, black sheep, have you any wool? …

The 27-year-old woman, an aquatics instructor and wife of a Canadian diplomat here, slowed the car as it approached an intersection. Suddenly something burst in the open driver’s-seat window and began ripping her hair. She instinctively clutched the steering wheel for protection.

“The natural impulse is not to look but to protect your face,” she recalled. She had been in India only a few weeks and had no idea what it could be that was hissing and spitting and scratching her neck.

When she finally summoned the courage to face her attacker, she was looking directly into the dull watery brown eyes of a raging rhesus macaca mulatta monkey. “His head was as big as mine and he was spitting and baring his teeth,” she recalled.

As Donna Hughes discovered, New Delhi has a monkey problem. In some cases, the monkeys that run wild here pose a serious safety hazard. Of course, sometimes, when they steal lunch boxes from school children or bathe in roof-top water tanks, they just stir up too much monkey business.

Increasingly, however, the 5 million residents of the Indian capital are not amused. “Simian Terror Plagues Capital,” blared a headline in the Times of India newspaper.

“Gangs of monkeys . . . reinforced by fresh groups from neighboring areas . . . have been causing havoc,” the report stated.

Letters-to-the-editor columns of the newspapers regularly feature anti-monkey letters from readers.

“Monkeys have become a major nuisance in the capital,” wrote Indraneel Banerjee, 51, in The Statesman newspaper. “They raid houses and carry away fruit, vegetables, eggs and anything else they like. Even medicines and sleeping pills are known to be lifted.”

Even pro-monkey lobbyists such a Dr. Iqbal Malik, a primatologist at Delhi University who has conducted a seven-year study of a monkey colony in the suburban Tughlakabad Fort area, admit that things have gotten out of hand in the densely populated inner city.

“There is a constant competition between human beings and monkeys for shelter and food,” she said.

In a strange case of reverse-Darwinism, monkeys have reengaged the humans for primacy, only this time on the humans’ home turf. There are those who think the monkeys are winning. Wrote Indraneel Banerjee, “It is difficult to take on these devils, as they come in groups.”

The city — both the ancient walled section and the new capital area — has always had colonies of the agile, big-eared, brown rhesus monkeys.

Monkeys are adored by India’s majority Hindu population, who see them as the descendants of the great monkey god Hanuman who helped Rama defeat demon armies in the Hindu epic Ramayana.

Every day, even along walks surrounding the office of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Hindus — their faces glowing with beatific smiles — can be seen feeding bags of bananas and nuts to New Delhi’s monkeys.

Until 10 years ago, however, the religious love of the monkeys was kept in a kind of ecological balance by the value of monkeys on the world market, where they were used extensively in scientific laboratories.

In fact, India was once the main exporter of the animal to Western researchers.

However, a 1978 law passed by Parliament under pressure from religious organizations and naturalists banned the export of monkeys. Since then, according to Dr. Malik, their population has tripled in the city. She estimates that as many as 5,000 monkeys now live in the capital.

Malik’s own study colony in the Tughlakabad Fort area has increased in eight years from 150 to 500 animals. Not only are the capital’s monkeys naturally prolific, but they are social animals and rove the streets in troupes of up to 100 monkeys each.

During evening rush hour when people are most likely to feed them scraps of food, they swarm over the majestic red sandstone government buildings designed in the Indo-Saracenic style by British architect Edward Lutyens. At twilight, it is as though the jungle had retreated and the Cambodian ruins of Angkor Wat have come alive again, complete with monkeys silhouetted on the skyline and thousands of people pouring from the doors.

Possibly because of religious sensitivities, the New Delhi municipal corporation has made only a token effort to combat the monkey menace. The city has one monkey catcher, a well-known local character named Attar Singh, 35, who claims to have captured 100,000 monkeys in his long career.

For every monkey he captures, usually luring the creature with food, Singh gets 95 rupees ($8) from the city. By Indian standards, he makes a good living on 20 monkeys a month, he said.

“A monkey is an equal adversary,” he told the Associated Press. “I have to confront them like an enemy. It is an art to trap them.” He said that after he captures the monkeys, he releases them in the wild miles outside of Delhi.

Dr. Malik, in letters to Prime Minister Gandhi and Parliament, where her husband is a sitting member, contends that Singh breaks up monkey social groups and often separates infants from their mothers.

“I have observed cases of death from clinical depression,” she said, who advocates capturing whole packs of monkeys and moving them en masse to a suitable rural location.

Some monkeys, however, should be allowed to remain in the city, she argues. “There should be a peaceful coexistence between the monkeys and the people,” she said.

In some instances, however, peaceful coexistence is not easy.

John Hampton is a diplomat with the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. He and his wife, Janet, both from Ohio, longed for the sweet corn from home that is not available in India.

They decided to grow corn in rooftop boxes at their home, located near a park where there is a large monkey population.

“We bought a Silver Queen variety imported hybrid,” Janet Hampton recalled wistfully. “We carried the boxes to the roof. We planted. We nurtured. We fertilized and we began our countdown.

“On the day we decided it was ripe we went to the roof, and monkeys had swung in from the woods and were having a feast.” She said at first she and her husband attempted to frighten the monkeys away with sticks but “they just bared their teeth and made it clear it was their corn.”

In the case of Donna Hughes, who was attacked by a monkey in a car not too far from the scene of the Hampton corn massacre, there was little permanent damage.

She jumped from the car. The monkey followed her and ran up a tree.

Fortunately, her son was more amused than frightened.

And after receiving five rabies shots for the open cuts on her neck where the monkey scratched or bit her (the doctor could not determine which), Donna Hughes is able to smile about the incident.

“It just brought things back into perspective for me,” she said over coffee in her New Delhi home. “It was a reminder that we are living in India. We are not living in Canada or the United States where we can drive along with the window open and be sure nothing will come jumping in.

“I don’t drive around with my window down here anymore.”

Tagged , , ,