Over the past year or so there has been an escalating war between monkeys and humans on the subcontinent.
In October last year, a 70-year-old man was stoned to death in Uttar Pradesh by a troop of monkeys that had reportedly collected bricks from a building side and hurled them at his head.
Even more distressingly, a 12-day-old baby was snatched from its mother’s breast by a monkey in Agra.
Inspector Ajay Kaushal, of Agra Police, told reporters: “The monkey bit the infant’s head and left the baby when people chased it with sticks and threw stones at it.
“The bleeding infant was rushed to hospital but declared dead on arrival.”
In one bizarre incident, a monkey stole over 10,000 rupees from a house in Shimla and escaped to a nearby tree where it threw the banknotes at passers-by.
“Surprised by the attention it was attracting, the cash loaded monkey then decided to move into the thick pine trees. But as it continued to shower notes, the money collectors naturally followed it,” said one eyewitness, Amit Kanwa.
Another man died as result of a monkey attack in Badnawar this month.
The escalation is real, says primatologist Iqbal Malik. He told Gizmodo: “The rhesus macaques, generally speaking, are a harmless and peaceful species.
“They live in troops, with each troop consisting of infants, sub-adults, sexually mature adults, and the elderly. Infants stay close to their mothers up to the age of six months, and the mother-infant bond is extremely strong,”
“Reports of violence among rhesus macaques mostly emerge from cases of chaotic fissioning, breaking of groups, and separation of mothers and infants.”
“On an average, about 20 cases of monkey bites are being reported every day”
Habitat loss is driving the monkeys ever closer to human settlements.
Macaque monkeys are considered sacred by Hindus, who often feed them, because of their connection to the god Hanuman. But the monkeys are becoming increasingly dangerous.
Somnath Bharti, an official from South Delhi, said: “On an average, about 20 cases of monkey bites are being reported every day.”
Attempts to curb India’s monkey population go as far back as 2006, when Himachal Pradesh became the first state in India to start sterilising rhesus monkeys.
Mr Malik says that the sterilisation program may itself be exacerbating the problem. “The sterilisation itself is innocuous, if done right. However, the forest department’s haphazard approach to the trapping and release of monkeys and their treatment before and after the operation, could be the real reason behind the problem.”
The vaccine-based approach, which would use either an oral contraceptive pill hidden in food or a liquid vaccine delivered by dart gun both have their problems.
The contraceptive pill approach would be problematic because monkey proof leaders would keep the food for themselves and the contraceptives would not be evenly spread through the population and the monkeys are too small and fast-moving to make the dart gun approach a straightforward prospect.
In the meantime, while officials wrangle over the best way to control the monkeys, the war between man and monkey intensifies.