Menaced by holy monkeys, Indian villagers call in the contract killers

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The Independent Online

The strange case of 60 monkeys whose carcasses were found dumped and with their throats slashed has exposed a growing conflict between man and nature in India.

The strange case of 60 monkeys whose carcasses were found dumped and with their throats slashed has exposed a growing conflict between man and nature in India.

It was a contract killing. The mystery started when villagers in Basana, Haryana state, saw two young men drive to a spot near the village in a blue Jeep and throw out bags. When the villagers, questioned them, the men fled. In the bags, the villagers found the bodies of rhesus monkeys. "They were fed poison and their necks were slashed," a wildlife official said in The Statesman newspaper. "Then they were squashed into bags and disposed of."

Police inquiries revealed that the killers had been paid to get rid of the monkeys by the inhabitants of Chang, a village 20 miles away. The growing monkey population had become a serious problem there but the villagers could not ask the government to control them because, according to Hindu belief, monkeys are holy to the god Hanuman, and no one would dare to interfere with them. So the frustrated villagers resorted to more drastic measures.

Monkeys roam freely across India, in major cities as well as in the countryside. The animals sitting on Delhi's grandest buildings regularly make it into tourist snapshots but the monkeys are, in fact, a menace. They have sharp teeth and often bite people, inflicting nasty wounds, even biting noses off. They can carry rabies; they also break into homes, steal food and run riot.

In Delhi, they famously once got into government buildings where they tore up a wealth of important documents. The incident was captured on security cameras as terrified civil servants fled from the marauding beasts.

In most societies, such a menace would be controlled: the monkeys would be trapped and removed from population centres. In the more upmarket neighbourhoods of Delhi, when the monkeys invade, residents club together to hire a larger monkey, a langur, to patrol the area. The smaller monkeys are terrified of the tame langurs and move on.

But that option is beyond the budget of the poorer parts of society, and, to those people, the monkeys are becoming a more serious problem. The animals are beginning to compete with India's vast masses of poor for the same food, taking fruit from the trees and crops from the fields, and breaking into homes and stealing the little food that people have.

In Chang, north-west of Delhi, the villagers had had enough. Several traffic accidents had occurred after drivers were forced to swerve to avoid monkeys running into the road. The monkeys had taken to stealing clothes as well.

"We suspect that extreme anger and frustration must be behind this killing," the deputy commissioner of police in the nearby town of Rohtak said. "The monkeys are known to wreak havoc in the villagers' fields and damage crops."

Indian environmentalists are now calling on the government to do more to prevent wild monkeys and people coming into such direct conflict.