Sunday, Jan 21, 2024 12:45 [IST]
Last Update: Sunday, Jan 21, 2024 07:16 [IST]
I remember a video posted on social media from the Namnang
Viewpoint in Gangtok, (popularly called Hurhurey Dara) from 2 years back or so.
It showed watermelon pieces neatly arranged in a row all along the stairs and
on the railings of the viewpoint, in what seemed like an offering for the wild
animals. For someone concerned about rising human wildlife conflict instances,
it was a pretty shocking sight. The place where the viewpoint is located going
up to the Secretariat are spaces that run like a boundary between the urban and
the forest landscape. When looking down and beyond from the viewpoint, one does
get the sense of standing on the town’s edge. So what happens in these spaces
is very important in shaping human interaction with wildlife, especially
monkeys in urban areas.
Any food left out in the open becomes an open invitation to
wildlife, such as monkeys and bears, akin to leading them with bread crumbs
into one’s house. Animals such as monkeys adapt quickly to urban spaces when
they get drawn into towns; be it through deliberate feeding, improperly
disposed waste, or even a callously littered pack of chips or bottle of soda.
They will get habituated over time with these foods and may never leave. This
is something we are already observing in parts of the town. Troops of monkeys
raiding houses for food, snatching food from unsuspecting people and just
generally creating nuisance have become common sights in places like Deorali,
Tadong and others.
Easy availability of food from humans is one of the primary
reasons why monkeys are leaving their homes in forests and are being pulled
into human spaces. Undeniably, habitat disturbance acts as the push factor that
cannot be ignored as one of the causes leading to displacement of monkey
populations. What is certain is what we are observing today has not happened
overnight. It has been some time in the making, through our own carelessness
and sometimes ignorant actions. But, it is still not too late.
Measures to capture and sterilise monkeys from high problem
areas is underway through the Forest Department’s recent efforts for population
control in 2023. This is surely a longer term intervention and it will be a few
years before any impact can be seen. Among the Himalayan cities, Shimla has
undertaken a monkey sterilisation initiative since 2015 covering over 1.76
lakhs monkeys with mixed results.
While the Forest Department has initiated the programme for
curtailing monkey populations, communities too have a larger role to play.
Citizen action and contribution is going to be key in determining what the
trajectory of the monkey menace in Gangtok will be in the coming years. If our
actions have invited the monkeys into our areas and made them feel welcome by
the food offered deliberately or unknowingly, through the food waste we have
disposed of, it is now time that we turn around and make amends.
Feeding monkeys is seen as an act of compassion and good
deed. The impulse to feed them is also sometimes hard to resist. This is common
during travel along the highways too, when people purchase biscuits and bread
to feed the monkeys on the roadside. I remember a particular heated argument
with a driver who got very upset when we stopped him from his one good deed
Far from being a good deed, it is quite the opposite, as the
act of feeding endangers the animals, eventually turning them into pests for
humans. It changes their natural feeding patterns and behaviour from being
forest foragers to urban raiders. Processed and cultivated food can get them
sick and they also get addicted to the processed junk food, just as humans
have. Wildlife needs a variety of foods in their diet, and consumption of junk
food does not provide them good health.
With a taste for addictive processed food, they begin to
raid houses, shops and waste dumps, losing all fear of humans, and even turning
aggressive. They resort to what is seen as begging for food, resulting
sometimes in attacks on humans, especially women and children, leading to
grievous injuries. ?Monkey bites and scratches can spread diseases, such as
rabies among many others. This spiralling effect that begins with a seemingly
innocent act of feeding monkeys is something that needs to be understood by all.
The Sikkim Forest and Environment Department has already
issued a notification that prohibits feeding of monkeys, with a fine of Rs.
5000. While such provisions are welcome as good deterrents, for it to be truly
effective, communities too need to get their act together. So let’s look
quickly at what all constitutes feeding and how everyone can contribute.
Obviously, the first thing is the deliberate handing out of
food directly to the monkeys. Mostly this happens in the name of religion or
people wanting to do a good deed. People also leave out food for monkeys and
other animals in open spaces. Quite often leftover food from lunch boxes in
many Government offices are also emptied outside windows, inviting wild animals
to feed on them. This can also be considered feeding. There are also altars
outside houses, where fruits are offered to deities regularly. These are prime
attractions for the monkeys who get habituated to the food. All these are
considered feeding, and if we are to manage the monkey menace, they have to be
Most crucially, how we dispose of our unsegregated waste
from households, offices, hotels, shops and restaurants, religious places, is
the determining factor in managing the monkey conflict. Improper disposal of
waste is also considered feeding, as monkeys and other wildlife will be
attracted to them. Especially for areas that are towards the edge of the town,
bordering forest areas, it is imperative that we ensure that waste is not left
out in the open. For such areas, even dustbins have to be made secure and
Though the monkeys may already be habituated to humans and
house raiding in many areas, attempts to chase them by making noises at every
instant instead of friendly interactions would make them feel unwelcome. Simple
things like securing windows and doors of houses to prevent them from entering
easily, not displaying food near windows or leaving food out in terraces,
verandahs, where monkeys have easy access, would go a long way in curtailing
Awareness generation is key to make people understand the
root of the conflict, and much work needs to be done on this front. Educational
institutions, social organisations, community volunteers, etc. have an
important role to play to spread the correct message.
Let’s keep our wildlife wild.