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ESSENTIAL DESTINATIONS

MONTH: June 2007

Dogs down, monkeys up in India

 

BANGALORE, HYDERABAD--Faster up a tree or the side of a building than a feral cat, biting more powerfully and often than any street dog, able to leap over monkey-catchers at a single bound, and usually able to outwit public officials, rhesus macaques are taking over Indian cities.

The chief reason is the recent drastic decline in street dogs.

The ecological role of Indian street dogs is threefold. As scavengers, street dogs consume edible refuse. As predators, street dogs hunt the rats and mice who infest the refuse piles. In addition, as territorial pack animals, street dogs chase other scavengers and predators out of their habitat.

Monkeys and pigs, in particular, have traditionally been controlled by the combination of dogs consuming the available food supply and packs of dogs chasing them--although monkeys have been known to befriend dogs, and dogs to adopt and nurse orphaned rhesus macaques.

One dog is no match for a troupe of macaques or herd of pigs, but several dogs usually prevail.

Now the Indian street ecology is abruptly changing. More streets are paved, discouraging pigs, who prefer muddy habitats where they can root and wallow. But as refuse collection has often not improved, more food waste is left to scavenge.

Paved roads allow cars and trucks to go faster, posing a greater threat to dogs, who forage in the streets, and not long ago often napped in mid-intersection.

Beyond the vehicular threat to dogs, the federally encouraged Animal Birth Control programs have markedly reduced dog reproduction in many Indian cities. Panic-driven purges following recent dog attacks have swept the streets of even the sterilized dogs in some cities, notably Banglore and Hyderabad.

 


But the garbage remains, more abundant than ever, and monkeys are quick to seize the opportunity, often taking arboreal routes above the traffic that hits their canine rivals. Frequently they detour into homes through open windows or balcony doorways.

The succession of street species was illustrated in April and May 2007 in the Bangalore suburb of Yelahanka.

Just as the furor over fatal dog attacks on children in other Bangalore suburbs on January 5 and March 1 began to settle, street dogs reportedly either mauled or killed a child in Yelahanka.

What exactly happened is still unclear. According to New India Press, the victim was a three-year-old, who was attacked on April 13, but two days earlier Bangalore activist Gopi Shankar posted to the Bangalore Animals newsgroup, "We had a six year old boy die of rabies yesterday at Yelahanka, about 20 kms north of Bangalore, in an area which was not covered by ABC, or for that matter any sort of dog management.

"According to some reports," Shankar continued, "the boy was bitten by a dog on March 25, and did not inform his parents, who are quite poor. But nobody has found the rabid dog, nor is it confirmed if the boy was indeed bitten by dogs.

"According to some local residents," Shankar added, "the area has had some dogs released by Bangalore municipal vans. These dogs were caught from within the city limits."

Yelahanka is among the areas where an Animal Help Ahmedabad surgical team had already contracted to sterilize street dogs. Before the team arrived, however, dogs were the targets of several days of mob violence.

"It's monkey trouble in Yelahanka," headlined The Hindu three weeks later, on May 8, 2007.

Correspondent Divya Gandhi described a simian home invasion.

"About 20 monkeys ripped through every edible item in the kitchen," she wrote. "The resident, blood boiling, saw visions of bumping them off with a shotgun."

 


A parallel story had already developed quite predictably in Chitradurga, where The Hindu on March 3, 2007 reported that the city administration "has decided to cull at least 1,000 dogs in the next four days."

The spring dog killing, undertaken contrary to federal law, is an annual exercise, The Hindu noted, mentioning that 600 dogs were killed in 2006.

"Monkey menace in Chitradurga," headlined The Hindu on April 29, 2007.

"After reports of at least six people being attacked by monkeys," The Hindu elaborated, "residents of a few localities here are living in fear owing to increased monkey menace. Women and children, in particular, are vulnerable victims.

"Forest official S. Neelakanthappa said the foray of monkeys into human habitation in summer is common," offering to "provide experts to the civic body to catch monkeys," The Hindu added.

The relationship between the annual dog culls and the monkey incursions somehow eluded notice--and eluded notice likewise in Tiruchi.

"Recent instances of poisoning of stray dogs in Tiruchi have caused disgust among volunteers involved with the Animal Birth Control and Rabies Elimination Project of the International Animal Rescue," wrote R. Krishnamoorthy on March 31, 2007. "Over the past few years, the volunteers have sterilized as many as 2,400 dogs in the city."

On February 22 and March 1, 2007, R. Rajaram of The Hindu reported Forest Department captures of 73 monkeys from three different troupes in the vicinity, who "would be released in Puliancholai reserve forest," with little likelihood of staying there, in view of the accessibility and attractions of the Tiruchi suburbs.

The biggest and most obvious example of monkeys taking over habitat left by dogs might have been in Hyderabad. Yet there too hardly anyone seemed to notice.

The background, Blue Cross of India chair Chinny Krishna explained to the Asian Animal Protection Network, is that, "The Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad two years ago stopped the successful ABC program carried out by the Blue Cross of Hyderabad and People for Animals, saying they would do it themselves. Close to 20,000 dogs were caught in the last two years and less than 1,500 were fixed, as per municipal records."

In other words, about 18,500 Hyderabad street dogs were killed. Even more dogs were captured and massacred after a fatal dog attack in an outlying suburb of Hyderabad on March 28, 2007.

Killing dogs is politically popular in Hyderabad--but with the typical result.

"The civic administration might be winning accolades on several fronts, but containing the monkey menace in the city is not one of them," noted T. Lalith Singh of The Hindu on May 8, 2007.

"Handicapped by lack of trained professionals to catch monkeys, Hyderabad may enter into a contract with one private team that managed to snare 1,529 monkeys in the last year. Civic officials estimate the simian presence to be anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000."

What will be done with the monkeys, if captured?

"A temporary facility with 45 cages to accommodate some 250 simians has been set up at Amberpet," Singh wrote.

Pressure to kill street dogs and monkeys often comes, throughout India, from organizations representing poor and illiterate members of the so-called "scheduled castes." Politicians seeking the so-called "scheduled caste vote" frequently use community upset over dog attacks as a pretext for asserting that Animal Birth Control programs are a hobby of the rich, diverting funds from helping the poor, putting dog catchers out of work, exposing the poor to mauling and maimings, and chiefly benefiting veterinarians and makers of anti-rabies vaccine.

Dog attacks and especially rabies cases have markedly decreased wherever ABC has been practiced successfully, but the allegations against ABC have gained political momentum, based on the argument that street dogs threaten the rights of poor people. The same argument is also advanced against monkeys.

Former Indian minister of animal welfare and People for Animals founder Maneka Gandhi on May 1, 2007 testified to the Andrha Pradesh State Human Rights Commission that "the monkey menace in residential localities could be eliminated if people stop feeding monkeys," The Hindu summarized.

Mrs. Gandhi founded the ministry for animal welfare as a project of her former portfolio as minister for social welfare and empowerment, responsible for improving the lives of the poorest of the poor, but her credentials and testimony failed to change the outlook of the Human Rights Commission, which had already favored purging street dogs and has extended that policy to monkeys.

As with street dogs, who are "the dog menace" to some, but are community pets to others, street monkeys have human friends and defenders, many of whom do feed them.

In one extreme case, in Rohtas, a Patna suburb, a man named Dadan Singh "started off by feeding 45 monkeys, but now there are 772," he told Ramlala Singh and Prabhakar Kumar of CNN on April 21, 2007. "Feeding so many monkeys is not an easy task," Singh added. "But most households of the village contribute," he said, "and they do it willingly."

Also as with street dogs, street monkeys can be helpful--when not being nuisances. "Once I was surrounded by dacoits [bandits]. I called out for the monkeys and they helped me," Dadan Singh claimed. "Since that day I decided to take care of the monkeys."

But monkey-feeding, also like dog-feeding, is sometimes a prelude to poisoning--as occurred in August 2006 at Kurvanoothupalam, Tamil Nadu, where 14 monkeys who had been accused of crop-raiding were found buried in an orchard.

Reports of mass monkey poisoning so far are relatively few, but reports of rampaging monkeys in spring 2007 came from all parts of India.

At Jorhat, in the extreme eastern part of the nation, a member of a marauding troupe in early February 2007 reportedly seized but later released a human infant.

In Nalgonda, far to the south, attorney Gajji Kurumulu in mid-February filed a lawsuit alleging that 450 monkeys had created havoc for more than a year due to civic indifference.

At Udupi, on the west coast, The Hindu reported in late March 2007, monkeys attacked "nearly 30 persons."

In Udhagamandalam, said The Hindu, Coonoor Citizens Forum secretary M.P.G. Nambisan "expressed serious concern over the menace caused by monkeys and stray dogs," and even noted both the role of haphazard refuse disposal and the ascendance of monkeys as a greater threat than dogs.
Yet Nambisan too failed to recognize that purging dogs amounts to inviting monkeys to feast. --Merritt Clifton