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Over 600 monkeys moved out of Vrindaban

As urbanisation in the pilgrim city of Vrindaban has deprived the strong monkey population of its natural abode and food, the primates have ceased to be man-friendly in their fight for survival.

Once worshipped by residents, monkeys have become a nuisance as they have enter houses to snatch and steal food and attack pilgrims.

Historic evidences prove that for centuries man and monkeys have peacefully coexisted in Vrindaban. Monkeys have been revered by both the locals and the pilgrims of the area but in the last two decades both human and monkey populations have exceeded a point beyond which man-monkey conflicts have become inevitable.

To ease the situation, a monkey translocation project has just been completed. About 600 monkeys from the city have been translocated to forest areas of Uttar Pradesh.

Probably the world's biggest ever monkey translocation project, which was funded by the World Wide Fund for Nature, India, was implemented by a Delhi non-governmental organisation Vatavaran.

Primatologist Iqbal Malik of Vatavaran says the project was completed successfully on January 20, 1997, and no monkey was injured in the process.

She says similar projects have to be replicated immediately in New Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu where several cases of monkeys attacking humans are being reported.

A study conducted by Vatavaran, before implementing the project, shows that an increase in the human population with a decrease in forest cover affected the monkey population of the area.

For 98 per cent of their food, the monkey's began depending on locals and pilgrims. As the food provided lacked quality and quantity, monkeys looked undernourished and sick. Many were forced to eat from the open sewage drains.

Monkeys biting children became an everyday affair. A large number of monkeys were also injured because of excessive infighting.

A survey was conducted to find out the people's attitude towards monkeys of Vrindaban. About 95 per cent of the residents felt harassed by the primates but only 26 per cent favoured complete translocation from the pilgrim city. Sixtynine per cent wanted partial translocation.

The translocation project created a controversy as a handful of people opposed the move because of religious sentiments. They blocked the operation and even tried to free the trapped animals.

Vrindaban is situated on the Delhi-Mathura road, about 140 km from Delhi. The temple township, bounded on three sides by river Yamuna, has about 1,000 temples, ghats, groves and tanks. It has a population of about 50,000 and an equally large floating population. In the last two decades there has been a 30 per cent increase in human population.

The study found there are 31 groups of rhesus monkeys comprising 1,338 individuals. The rhesus is a remarkable species. It has the widest geographical distribution of any non-human primate, reaching from Afghanistan in the west to Hong Kong in the east, south to Thailand and Vietnam and north to Zhenghou in China.

According to studies, there are over 100,000 rhesus monkeys in India. At present 55 per cent of these are living in human habitation areas and 20-40 per cent are worthy cases for trapping and translocation.

''Before undertaking any translocation one must first appreciate something of the animal's normal social organisation,'' says Malik.

During the translocation project, family units were moved en bloc so that they continue to live as homogenous groups. Four professional trappers were hired and 13 holding cages were brought from Meerut and Mathura.

The first trappings were done at the Anand Mayee Ashram. It was followed by trappings at temples, other ashrams and along roads. The sites were selected on the basis of requests made by the people.

Malik claims the relocation has not broken a single monkey family and no infant has been separated from its mother.

During late evenings, the groups of trapped monkeys were transported to the translocation sites. The monkeys were released in front of prominent citizens. They headed towards the lush green trees of kikar and jamun.

Rhesus monkeys mate in the autumn and births occur from late-spring to mid-summer. To minimise stress imposed on pregnant females and the risk of orphaning infants still heavily dependent upon mothers, trapping were done in December-January.


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