Thousands of monkeys keep Shimla, the former summer capital of the British colonial era in northern India, under heavy attack, with advances against residents and visitors – sometimes seriously injuring them.
During the strict national confinement that lasted from March to June because of the new coronavirus pandemic, many monkeys left the site at the foot of the Himalayas – and which houses refined Victorian buildings – to fetch food in the surrounding rural areas.
But after the restrictions eased, they returned. Almost 50 groups of hungry monkeys attacked tourists and residents again, stealing bags of food and biting passersby.
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Shimla, a city of 160,000 and the capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh, attracts tourists, especially in the summer. But visits during the hottest time of the year also include monkeys that delight in the residue left by hamburgers or pizzas.
The animals returned to the site after confinement restrictions eased. – Photo: Money SHARMA / AFP
Bruises on the head and face
Nand Lal, 46, has body injuries caused by monkeys in the middle of the street. “I was passing through a group of monkeys when the dominant male suddenly attacked me and three others joined him.”
“Fortunately, I picked up a stick and managed to keep it away. I have bruises on my head and face. I was bleeding from a bite on the back,” said Lal, recalling that he had to take several injections of rabies vaccine.
“People are very scared and don’t know what to do,” said Kuldeep Chand Sood, a retired former Supreme Court judge, showing the hole a monkey bite left in his leg when he sat on his terrace.
“I was reading when a big monkey suddenly attacked me,” he told AFP news agency.
In the neighborhood where Sood lives, Sanjauli, many houses are protected by bars on their terraces and windows. When they manage to enter, the monkeys do not hesitate to empty the refrigerators.
The garbage cans that overflow in front of hotels and restaurants also appeal to them, explained Rajesh Sharma, an environmental official in Shimla.
With the improvement of the garbage collection system, “monkeys have more problems. But their habits remain the same. They take everything they see out of their hands”.
And if they find nothing, “they bite,” added Sharma.
Even visitors who come to admire the Jakhu Temple, endowed with one of the largest statues of the monkey god Hanuman in the country, have their glasses or anything that glows stolen.
In addition to attacking humans, they cause damage to crops: the state estimates that more than 130,000 monkeys eat or destroy fruit and crops in the fields, causing losses of millions of dollars each year.
From revered to harmful
Revered in this predominantly Hindu country, monkeys are now considered harmful animals by the government, susceptible to elimination. But no official extermination campaign has been launched, although peasants have illegally poisoned hundreds of animals.
In Shimla, as in other cities in the state, authorities have started a campaign to sterilize monkeys. There were 157,000 sterilizations in five years.
“Sterilization is the only way to control this population,” explained Pooja Kanwar, an expert at the monkey sterilization center in Shimla.
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