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Monkey Wrench

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We, the Government

By Hugh and Colleen Gantzer

Winter has come to Mussoorie.
Five minutes after the first fall of snow on our cottage garden, the lights went out. Earlier, a leopard had been caught, on a security camera, wandering through the lobby of a hotel in Barlowgunj. Hunger drives wild predators down from the higher Himalayas to our 2.000 metre town. Years ago, an experienced Forest Official had told us that leopards, which are great climbers, prey on monkeys shivering and huddling in the trees. He had also hinted darkly that the blood of Rhesus monkeys could taste much like human blood and so the transition from monkeys to humans should be an easy one for a hungry leopard!
We cannot comment on this remark, but it is thought-provoking: disturbingly thought provoking. It is particularly ominous for those of us who do not live in communities protected by facilities paid for by tax-payers. In other words by We, the Government.
This gives us another reason to fear the presence of the growing groups of monkeys menacing our hill station. Not only do such increasingly ferocious tribes of simians attack humans, injure them, and possibly spread rabies, but they could also be a step in turning hungry leopards into man eaters! We would be interested in hearing the opinion of experts from the Wildlife Institute commenting on this speculation.
But quite apart from the validity, or otherwise, of this theory, increasing groups of wild monkeys are, indeed, menacing humans and human habitation. They also uproot the plants in our gardens, destroy our rainwater guttering, and damage our corrugated iron roofs. They, along with wild boars, have destroyed farms in our Himalayas causing whole villages to be abandoned and adding to the problem of migration. Eventually, the government decided that wild boars could be destroyed but monkeys could not.
Many people have told us that they cannot understand this selective protection. They claim that it cannot be based on principles of faith. Lord Varaha, an incarnation of the Preserver, was a boar; the vahan of Lord Ganesh is a mouse, but that has not prevented boars and mice from being treated as the vermin that they are. But such matters of faith are not something we would like to comment on. The state has to explain its selective prohibitions to those who have voted it into power. Here, however, are a few interesting facts.
• Monkey-catching professionals are based in Mathura. Since they are in such great demand they charge Rs 500 for every monkey caught.
• Such a team spent a week clearing Raj Bhavan grounds in Dehradun, Tehri House, Dalanwala and Garhi Cantt. So our babus, netas and other privileged souls are happy. Naturally! Naturally!
• In some parts of our state there are 4-member teams of Forest Department personnel, trained to catch monkeys. They also have cages and vehicles to remove these menacing creatures. Our area does not have such dedicated teams.
In an earlier column, we had quoted from the published words of the greatest Gandhi of them all, the Mahatma himself, as carried in his own publication. He had placed the protection of animals and humans in the right perspective. Any animal that endangers the existence of humans should be destroyed. He did not quibble on this crucial question. Such creatures, ranging from ants to monkeys, should be killed.
And so to the great people who rule over us with such Majesty and Power we ask a few questions. On what grounds do you believe that the Mahatma’s opinion was wrong? If you agree with his written opinion, why are you hesitating to implement it?
Finally, if it is the opinion of the Forest Department that this is not a decision that needs to be taken by the government but is well within the purview of the Department, then why is our Principal Chief Conservator not asserting his authority in ordering the formation of more trained, and dedicated, teams of monkey catchers? There should be one under every DFO, authorised, and adequately equipped, to do their jobs.
As for how these captured simians should be dealt with, that is a matter which would pain a number of sympathetic bleeding hearts. That is the monkey-wrenching question.