India’s government faces a tough re-election battle next year but first it must deal with an opponent as wily as any political rival as troops of monkeys have become a big threat around its offices in New Delhi.
Red-faced rhesus macaques have spread havoc, snatching food and mobile telephones, breaking into homes and terrorising people in and around the Indian capital.
They have colonised areas around parliament and the sites of key ministries, from the prime minister’s office to the finance and defence ministries, frightening both civil servants and the public.
“Very often they snatch food from people as they are walking, and sometimes they even tear files and documents by climbing in through the windows,” said Ragini Sharma, a home ministry employee.
An advisory to members of parliament last month detailed ways they could keep simian attacks at bay.
”Don’t tease or make direct eye contact with a monkey and definitely don’t get between a mother and her infant”, the advisory said,.
The rapid growth of cities has displaced macaques, geographically the most widely distributed primates in the world after humans, driving them into human habitats to hunt for food.
Many in Hindu-majority India revere and feed the animals they consider to be connected to the demigod Hanuman, who takes the form of a monkey.
“This socio-religious tradition of feeding has created a vicious cycle,” said ecology researcher Asmita Sengupta. They become used to being fed by humans and lose their sense of fear.They start actively seeking supplementary food and if we don’t feed them, they turn aggressive.”