By Ranil Senanayake –
So, the Monkey business has come down to murder or export. It is true that monkeys among other wildlife have benefitted greatly living in a country that holds values such as karuna and metta in high esteem. The other feature that helped was that, over the years of war, guns were generally unavailable to the public. These features facilitated the population increase that we witness today. It is also true that the monkey population not only increased, but were also relocated when they became a problem in some areas, without a thought of their impact on the recipients of that translocation action. It is clear that some of the current monkey problems, were direct creations of ‘official’ translocation activities.
The current preoccupation on export suggests that the Government officials involved have no option other than murder or export that they can place on the table. Killing the monkeys is a more humane way than exporting them to a life of torture and agony, but handing out guns and make people accustomed to killing might not be the wisest way of getting about it. To be fair, wildlife management in todays human dominated world has to consider population control. As much as there is a call for increasing the populations of endangered species, there is a corresponding need to control populations of species that threaten the sustainability of the ecosystem that they live in. It is clear that the Wild Life Department has the responsibility under law of protecting wild life, in fact the name Dept of Wildlife and Conservation, underwrites this responsibility. Having staff distributed through the nation, they must maintain a database recording all the instances of monkey problems. Could we not use the government machinery to address this problem differently ?
The monkey under consideration is the Rhesus Macaque. As a farmer I can attest to the problems that monkeys create on my own farm. It is not only the fruits and vegetables that they steal but they seem to delight in wanton damage. They will lift roof tiles to gain access to a house and wreck much of the contents before they exit through the opening they made. They have developed a new habit of wrecking the wing mirror of vehicles and they have learnt how to circle and gang up on any hapless farm dog that challenges them. It is easy to loose patience at the outrageous behavior of these animals but is killing them or exporting them to a fate worse than death the only options?
A recent press report states that ‘The decision to export toque macaque monkeys was made in order to control the monkey population in the country, in accordance to international standards’ then it goes on to dismiss claims that the first phase of the program would see 100,000 toque macaque monkeys being exported to China, while in fact the actual figure would be between 500 and 1,000. What is going on? Will the export of 500-1000 monkeys, help in controlling the monkey population in the country? Scientific studies conclude that “Management actions designed to eradicate the macaque population would be most effective by removing 50% of subadults and adults at least”. In the light of this information, it is doubtful if the planned export of 500-1000 individuals will help in controlling the existing monkey population today.
One of the most appalling thing is the sheer ignorance demonstrated by those pontificating on the issue. This monkey is not an unknown species, Rhesus macaques are the most studied nonhuman primate, both in the field and in laboratory settings. As a species found throughout Indochina, many countries have faced similar situations and responded in different ways. However, population control was looked at in a humane manner at that time. Early field tests were carried out in Hong Kong 2002, in the world’s first monkey contraceptive programme targeting a citywide population of macaques, using methods including vasectomies on males and temporary injections on females. Now the programme focuses on the sterilisation of females, which is done about twice a month, bringing the total of monkeys permanently or temporarily neutered to more than 1,500.
There are other chemical means such as the use of Deslorelin acetate which is a commercially available gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonist that may provide a relatively noninvasive, long-lasting, and potentially reversible alternative to standard NHP contraception methods. The National Primate Research Center at the University of California, Davis, has developed a new contraceptive called Vasalgel which has been shown to be an effective form of birth control in rhesus monkeys. Himachal Pradesh spent around $1 million to set up eight sterilization centers. Officials pay trappers a bonus of nearly $10 a head for capturing the animals. Over the past 10 years, the state has sterilized more than 125,000 monkeys.
Finally, there is the history of the human birth control pill development of when animal experiments in the late 1930s demonstrated that high-dose progesterone could arrest ovulation. Massive animal tests followed to demonstrate the effectiveness and safety of the birth control pill, the animals that contributed to the testing was none other than our resus monkey! So, could we use feeding behavior patterns to establish feeding stations that provide with food laced with human birth control powder? Should not the people with a mandate of managing wild life begin work on humane population control methods rather than just mouthing violent knee jerk reactions?
Again, as a farmer, plagued with destruction of crops by hordes of monkeys, I look for some resolution. I look to the government to provide answers. As a scientist I know that there are lots of animal control methods, both existing and under research that we should be looking at. But the current response of ‘kill or export’ demonstrates to the nation, the lazy, shallow ill-informed and uncaring attitude towards nature, that seems to be a hallmark of this administration.