Floods in Bengaluru make for big headlines. The plight of monkeys rarely does. In this case, the particular species named Bonnet Macaques, which can usually be seen in the vicinity of the city’s temples.
As the city’s urban sprawl spreads inexorably, natural habitats of many species are getting overrun. Monkey habitats are one such. Causing what some Bengalureans call the monkey menace. Meaning when they spot a monkey sitting outside their apartment’s kitchen window in search of food.
A Scroll report, citing the work of Mewa Singh of the University of Mysore and HN Kumara of Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, Coimbatore, contests the common belief that Bonnet Macaque monkeys are in abundance and that their conservation status is of “least concern”. The researchers, in fact, say the Bonnet Macaque monkeys could fall into the endangered category soon. The reason they give is loss of habitat and the incursion of the more dominant rhesus monkey.
H N Kumara further adds that there have been attempts by city authorities at translocating monkeys to locations outside the city. But most of them die because of stress or inability to adapt to the change in habitat or climate.
The courts intervene
To put an end to what he called the illegal trapping of Bonnet Macaque monkeys, city-based advocate B S Radhanandan, residing in Chamrajpet area, filed a PIL in the Karnataka High Court on June 7th, arguing that the species is protected under Schedule II item (3)(a) of the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972.
The PIL also pleads for the development of a master plan to safeguard the people of Bengaluru from any threat posed by the presence of monkeys. “Very often, such complaints are raised by residential complexes on the outskirts of the city, where paddy fields or forest lands have now been converted to apartment complexes,” said Radhanandan.
Radhanandan says that groups of monkeys come looking for food in apartment complexes, where it is easier to access kitchens that in individual houses. “Often residents and their welfare associations do not get assistance from civic authorities to deal with this threat and hence are forced to hire unlicensed individuals to trap the monkeys”.
The PIL points out how due to the lack of clarity regarding jurisdiction, it is confusing for distressed residents to figure out which civic authority to approach. Resulting in neither the BBMP nor the forest department being able to take any action.
Radhanandan’s PIL finally led to the creation of a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) prepared by a team of experts set up by the Forest Department for the safe capture and release of monkeys.
While hearing the PIL, a division bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Suraj Govindaraj noted: “Keeping in mind the duty of the state, the safety of humans and welfare of animals, while protecting citizens from the monkey menace, the state government should ensure that the monkeys are not hurt in any manner and shift them to their natural habitat.”
Following this, on August 22nd, the HC advised the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and Urban Local Bodies to properly implement the SOP, which was issued by the Forest Department on August 25th. The SOP details steps to capture, translocate, release and rehabilitate monkeys as well as for the protection of animals in conflict with humans in both urban and rural areas across the state.
The toll-free helpline number offered by the BBMP, “1533” will tackle issues residents may face regarding monkeys or any other animal, like stray snakes or bird menace. Alternatively, the Forest Department’s helpline number to provide assistance is 1926.
A subsequent disposal of a suo moto petition by a division bench headed by acting Chief Justice, Alok Aradhe and Justice S Vishwajith Shetty based on media reports of the death of 38 Bonnet Macaques monkeys from alleged poisoning had highlighted the need for such an SOP. The carcasses of these monkeys were found at the road junction at Chowdenhalli in Arehali Hobli of Belur taluk in Hassan district.
On August 3rd, the BBMP stated in a release: “Following the directions of the court, the BBMP has started the helpline. People can also complain about any animal related menace on the ‘Namma Bengaluru Mobile app.”
What the SOP says
The Forest Department’s SOP to capture, release and rehabilitate monkeys was prepared by a Technical Expert Committee (TEC) comprising Mewa Singh, a primatologist and ethologist of the Institute of Excellence, University of Mysore; H N Kumara, Principal Scientist-Conservation and Biology; Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History and the state’s Chief Wildlife Warden.
“The SOP says that the Chief Conservator of the Forests are vested with the power under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, to grant or refuse permission to capture, translocate or rehabilitate animals,” explains Radhanandan. “Moreover, the SOP states that, in urban spaces, local bodies like the BBMP will have to develop monkey rescue and rehabilitation centres with the Forest Department’s assistance to provide land, infrastructure and financial support”.
Steps for the capture and release of monkeys
- Receipt of application: A complaint to any jurisdictional forest office should be made using the Helpline numbers “1926” and “1533” for areas under BBMP. A complaint can also be made at Metropolitan City Corporations or local bodies like Zilla Panchayath, Taluk Panchayath or Gram Panchayath. A sou moto cognizance by the concerned official would be recognised too.
- Verification: The application should be verified by the jurisdictional Range Forest Officer (RFO). Accordingly, field inspection should be carried out by the RFO or subordinate staff.
- Parameters to be considered by the concerned officers: The SOP states two parameters. One, when a monkey or groups of monkeys enters an apartment complex or needs urgent veterinary care. Under such circumstances, the concerned Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF) or Conservator of Forests (CF) could permit the capture and relocation of the monkey(s).
- The second parameter refers to instances excluding the ones mentioned above. In such cases the concerned officer is asked to find the radius of the conflict zone, investigate the nature of conflict, find out the species of the monkey and how many. It is also suggested that the concerned officer form a committee involving experts/volunteers/NGOs. The officials will also have to examine if the monkeys have been caught previously and accordingly the CCF/CF is to decide.
- Permissions: The Chief Conservator of Forests is the authority in charge to issue orders.
- Capture and Translocation: The capturing should be done under the supervision of the Deputy Range Forest Officer. Two additional staff of the Forest Department/Zoo with an expertise in capturing should accompany. A veterinarian and a representative of the local body should also be present.
- Equipment to be used: Walk-in traps, throw nets, blow pipes, transportation cages, etc.