Tag Archives: monkey-catchers



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.”

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by Nergis Dalal
Christian Science Monitor
March 8, 1982

NEW DELHI: This is an absolutely true story. I can vouch for it. It all began around six or seven years ago with the sudden arrival of a small female monkey in the shopping center of one of Delhi’s more affluent areas. She was a small brown rhesus monkey with a lean and hungry look and dark, wistful eyes.

This might sound absolutely extraordinary in the United States, but in India monkeys do tend to appear from time to time in thickly populated areas.

I first saw this one sitting mournfully on the high roofs of a cinema, blinking in the sun and looking both forlorn and pathetic. Other observers presumably responded as I did, because very soon she was eating a banana, shelling peanuts and even eating a slice of buttered bread. She still looked sad and lonely.

Two weeks later we were astonished to see not one but two monkeys sitting in the sun and blinking down at us from the high roofs of the cinema. This new one was a male, and he too looked lean and hungry, but there was a wicked gleam in his eye and a certain swagger to his movements.

The cinema garden had shady trees, a fountain, flowering bushes, and lawns. Now, instead of keeping to the rooftops, the two monkeys were more often seen leaping in the trees, drinking water from the fountain, and sunning themselves on the lawns. They caused a certain amount of amusement and interest, and foreigners were known to bring their children for an afternoon’s outing to see the monkeys and to feed them peanuts, toffees, and fruit — so much more entertaining than the zoos.

Both monkeys soon lost their lean and hungry look and became positively rotund. Fat and furry, coats gleaming gold in the sun, the female continued to look wistful but the male was smug and often aggressive.

Instead of sitting on the trees or at a distance from humans, they now began to approach them with great confidence. First they would simply sit and wait to be fed with handouts, but soon the male snatched packets of peanuts out of the hands of his benefactors, and even stuck his hand into their pockets.

One young man, in tight jeans, had his wallet sticking out, which the monkey calmly lifted and inspected closely. The young man gave an angry shout and made a threatening gesture at which both the monkeys fled, climbing rapidly to the top of the cinema canopies. Here they put their heads together and carefully began to inspect the contents of their booty. Money in notes and coins was flung down in disgust, showering the small crowd that had collected. The male then chewed at the wallet ruminatively, but not finding the taste to his liking, flung that down as well.

This was the beginning of a life of delinquency, which they embarked on with great gusto. Anyone eating chocolates or nuts was pounced upon and the food grabbed with lightning speed. The monkeys seemed fascinated by the parked scooters and often spent their leisure ripping up the leather seats and bouncing on the carriers. Close by was the office of the International Airport Authority, which the pair would raid, appearing through the windows and snatching at files and papers, and disappearing again like highly trained cat burglars.

The end was approaching fast. Complaints came hurtling in, except from the children, who found the whole thing delightful. The municipal monkey catchers were called. The furry pair led them a very complicated chase, at the end of which the monkey catchers left, panting and exhausted, while their prey sat placidly in their favorite spot on the cinema roof and basked in the sun.

A senior zoo official was asked to come and help. He brought his tranquilizer dart, which he shot at the male, successfully hitting him in the middle of his back. The female ran squeaking in fright. It takes fifteen minutes for the dart to have effect and the trappers climbed up to the roof, hoping to find an immobilized monkey. They found only the dart, and neither of the two monkeys was visible. One of the two had obviously pulled the dart out and thrown it away. The next day they were again sitting in their favorite spot, looking down at the people.

Now expert trappers of a private company were called in. They set nets and traps with luscious tidbits inside, and both monkeys found themselves trapped at last. Safely inside a large carrier, they were taken to a distant part of a heavily wooded park and released.

Alas for the trappers! Before they could return to collect their fee, the monkey pair were back, sitting on the roof, a little ruffled and chattering with annoyance, but in full possession.

They are now an accepted feature of the place, and the only ones to attempt any “shooting” are the cameramen. The couple pose without any shyness, the female very fat, but still with a wistful expression, and the male even fatter, with an expression that can only be termed thoroughly triumphant.

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by D Anderson
The Daily Telegraph (Australia)
November 10, 1986

NEW DELHI: The authorities in the Himalayan foothills, where the British established their Indian summer capital at Simla during the Raj, have been forced to tackle some serious monkey business.

An extraordinary plan is now being prepared to trap and capture vicious mountain monkeys, which have begun to attack children and tourists in Simla.

The scheme is being handled at the political level in Simla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh state, after the bureaucracy rejected it as a “futile and dangerous” task which could even lead to death for anyone brave, or foolish, enough to try and catch the animals.

The crunch came in May when a male monkey attacked a school, bit 45 children, one fatally, and forced a virtual state of emergency.

The fatality served to make up the minds of the authorities.

On August 10 they decided to hire monkey-catchers from the desert state of Rajasthan to snare the animals at a price of $1 each and send them to areas uninhabited by human beings.

“We cannot kill them because the Indian Wildlife Act prohibits it,” Simla’s mayor, Adarsh Kumar, said.

More than 2000 monkey attacks causing injury and shock are reported in Simla annually, according to medical authorities.

The government says it is determined to go ahead with the scheme despite protests from the bureaucracy and fears of Hindu protests.

The monkey is revered by Hindus as a symbol of Hanuman, the monkey god.

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