During a recent outing to Kumaon in Uttarakhand, we were walking along the road when we encountered a troop of monkeys. The monkeys were feeding on a variety of food waste, mainly supplied by people.
Some of the monkeys were feeding on bananas and throwing the peels on the road in the hope that someone would go 'bananas' slipping on them! Some were scrounging on discarded packets of potato chips in the hope of finding something while others were perched on the railing beside the road, keeping their eyes open for an unsuspecting victim who had the guts to eat food in front of them.
Any human or non-human (dogs, for example), spotted eating near the troop of monkeys was at once attacked, and their goodies stolen. This was 'monkey business' at its sordid best.
I am sure that monkeys have raided at least some readers of this column at some point in their lives. Personally I have spent hours observing monkeys as part of a project that I did, attempting to find solutions to the problem of crop damage caused by monkeys in agricultural landscapes.
I have loads of stories to tell on how these non-human primates (humans are primates, too!) fooled me into parting with my food. On one occasion, I was eating an apple while watching a troop of monkeys on a rooftop.
As I watched the monkeys, one of them began to perform some funny antics. I put my partially eaten apple back into my bag and pulled up my binoculars to observe the monkey’s behaviour. A minute later, I put down my binoculars and reached out for my apple, only to find that it had disappeared. A few metres away, a grinning monkey sat on the parapet, devouring my apple! The rooftop antics were just a trick to distract me while another monkey stole my food!
Coming back to the present, the sight of monkeys feeding at the roadside made my blood boil. Even as I watched, a carload of people slowed down near the monkey troop, and threw out a bag of waste for the monkeys. The car whizzed by me, and I felt like waving it down and shouting to the people 'Don’t feed the monkeys'. The monkey menace in many of our cities is mostly of our own making. By feeding monkeys on the roadside or near temples, we have made them habituated to being fed by humans, instead of looking for food in the wild.
Open dustbins and garbage dumps allow monkeys to forage on refuse in practically every city in the country. As a result, the monkey menace is all-pervasive, at least in urban India.
The monkeys have a free run, stealing food, attacking people occasionally, destroying home gardens, spreading garbage and waste leading to the spread of diseases. If we come together, we can still tackle the monkey menace.
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