BENGALURU: It's 7am on a Tuesday and already the famous Brahmin's Coffee Bar in Shankarapura is bustling with activity. On one part of the road in front of the eatery, are joggers and walkers who take gentle sips from their coffee glasses as they lean against parked vehicles and talk to each other. Opposite to them, a group of middle-aged men sit on a pavement after finishing the eatery’s legendary breakfast meal of idlis, vadas and coconut chutney.
Down the road from this scene, a not so different activity of eating and chattering is in progress albeit, of a very different species and in a totally different setting. High up in coconut trees of some households in the area, are a gang of Bonnet Macaques who are hanging by its leaves and foraging for food. They occasionally jump to a nearby building before climbing back the trees.
Vallish Kaushik, an animal rescuer, and conservationist who lives in the nearby locality, has spent many mornings such as this observing the same gang of monkeys, for the past eight years, He says he has noticed a very disturbing fact about the monkeys in the last two years i.e. they are no longer migrating to other places and are staying put in the same place.
He says the reasons for their change in behaviour could be loss of canopy and rapid urbanisation, but the more immediate reason could be the Metro link from Yelachanahalli to Nagasandra. This metro link has cut off the monkeys from their regular route into Lalbagh. They cannot walk on the road as they could be mauled by dogs, or swing across on electric lines.
"For around three months, every year, starting from the beginning of Diwali the monkeys would disappear. I found out that they used to go to Lalbagh which is around 2 km away. Somewhere around January, they would be back in the area," says Vallish who also consults and helps the BBMP with animal rescue. The monkeys would also occasionally go to VV Puram and other nearby areas. Since the past one or two years, however, the gang of monkeys is not going anywhere, adds Vallish. As a result, the activities and the population of this group of monkeys have also increased here, causing some residents to lose some sleep.
Pushpa Ramgopal is a resident of the area whose family has been living here for the past 50 years. She says while she has always seen monkeys here, she noticed their presence throughout 2017.
"Usually there was a time when they would be gone for many days, but last year they were always there. We never get to eat fruits from the few coconut and mango trees we have in any case, however now we need to be extra vigilant," says Pushpa.
She also has a one and half-year-old daughter who she never leaves in the compound alone due to a fear of the monkeys. "I was once nearly attacked by three monkeys on my terrace. I had dried some grams and had gone out to get them. There were, however, three of them who came near me when I tried to get the gram. I ran. A servant was also attacked." In anticipation of more attacks, Pushpa's family says they will call the BBMP to try and solve the problem.
With depleting green cover and developmental works being undertaken at a rapid pace, it seems there is very little chance that monkeys can survive for too long.While the BBMP regularly plant saplings as a way to compensate for loss of green cover, Assistant Conservator of Forests, South-2 Division, BBMP, E H Satyanarayana, admits that most of these are not fruit bearing trees, “The entire habitat of monkeys is disappearing and I think they cannot survive much longer. These animals survive primarily on a diet of vegetables and fruits. In some good places due to the presence of fruit trees, they are still there. However the problem is there are not many areas with fruit yielding trees anymore in the city,” he says.
Besides urbanisation, Satyanarayana also blames the general public’s attitude for the loss of trees. “I receive many complaints on a daily basis of residents asking us to come and cut down trees. It is as if people do not want trees anymore near their houses. Some will come with complaints saying there are too many insects in one tree, another says there are too many leaves falling from a tree. Others say there are too many birds. Others are scared of monkeys. We receive all kinds of strange reasons for cutting trees on a daily basis that, if implemented, directly affects the habitat of creatures such as
monkeys,” he adds.
Most complaints of simian-man conflict, says Satyanarayana has been reported from houses and apartment complexes in places such as Bannerghatta, that lie in the fringes of the city. Satyanarayana says he received as many as two such complaints per month. Take the case of Rajshekhar G, operations manager of Aspen Woods Apartments in Bannerghatta Road.
“In the past one year the monkey activity has greatly increased in our apartment. It was not a big problem earlier but now it seems as if they do not go away from the apartment at all. They go into people’s houses and steal food, attack people. We have called the BBMP several times but they have not paid heed to our request,” he says adding that a number of apartments have come up in the area in the years after the apartment was built.
Others don't mind
There are others like Manjunath Kodanad, another resident who admits that the monkey activity has increased in his area since the last two years but he does not seem to mind the same. "I have been living here for 40 years and have grown up seeing these monkeys. I do not mind at all. Since we have encroached into their spaces now they are coming to ours," he says. He also occasionally feeds the simians. His compound has three coconut trees that seem to be the hub of activity for the gang. Majority of the people in the area CE spoke to, did not seem to mind the increased activity. "At the BBMP, we hardly receive any complaints about the monkey menace from these parts of the city." says Vallish who himself him was living in the same area till a few years ago. He, however, says as food becomes scarce and there are more mouths to feed there is bound to be more conflicts with humans.
‘Monkeys overpowered by an outsider’
According to Vallish, there used to be around 23 monkeys in the group but now there around 32. There are two dominant males with the rest of the group comprising of female monkeys and their children. Twice, the main males in have been overpowered and led by a monkey from another group, says Vallish.