Shimla, Nov 17 : A band of field staff of the wildlife wing armed with cameras and logbooks will set out for a unique race -- to count and identify marauding monkeys across Himachal Pradesh next month, officials said.
This dawn-to-dusk estimation of three days involves 8,000 to 12,000 employees, comprising wildlife officials.
As per the last census conducted in 2015, the state has a population of 2.07 lakh monkeys.
Chief Wildlife Warden Savita told IANS the census would be carried out by the wildlife wing of the state Forest Department by involving the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) for the first time.
"WII's scientist Qamar Qureshi will provide us equipment and researchers for conducting the census.
Also they will hold training of our forest guards ahead of the census," she said.
The census will be carried in state's 11 out of 12 districts.
Barring Lahaul-Spiti district and some pockets in Kinnaur district, the state is in the grip of monkey menace as they have caused crop losses worth hundreds of crores of rupees in recent years.
As the religious sentiments prevent the people from kill the monkeys, their population is multiplying and their menace has increased in cities and villages.
Wildlife veterinary surgeon Sandeep Rattan told IANS controlling the monkey population by way of mass sterilization is one of the viable and successful options.
Himachal Pradesh is the only state in world where such a large exercise of sterilization of simians has been undertaken.
Almost 4.6 lakh new births have been prevented after the inception of the mass sterilization programme almost 13 years ago.
Also, many other activities have been undertaken to mitigate the monkey-menace like awareness on not to feed the monkeys, getting the monkeys declared as vermin, deploying eco-task force at hotspots and enriching the forests by planting fruit-bearing tree species to prevent their exodus to human habitations.
According to Rattan, to identify the sterilised monkeys permanent tattooing is being done in middle of the forehead for past three years.
As per studies by the wildlife wing, 39 out of the 75 tehsils in 10 of the 12 districts have been identified as monkey hotspots.
A hotspot means a place of maximum conflict with humans.
The maximum of seven monkey-affected tehsils are in Kangra district, followed by Una, Bilaspur and Sirmaur districts (five each) and Shimla (four).
The monkey census says there are about 2,452 monkeys within the Shimla municipal limits, which is higher than their number registered in 2013.
Marauding monkeys, prowling in gangs on Shimla's streets created panic among residents and tourists.
They have been causing havoc by biting passersby and snatching food.
Officials say on an average at least 50 monkey bite cases are being reported every month in the Rippon Hospital in Shimla alone.
They say the monkey menace has reached an alarming proportion and needs to be tackled scientifically.
In localities like Jakhu, Tutikandi, Nabha, Phagli, Kaithu, Summer Hill, Tutu, Boileauganj, Chotta Shimla and Sanjauli, the residents have literally converted their houses into jails by erecting iron grills on the doors and windows to check the intrusion of monkeys.
Wildlife officials said over a decade ago monkeys were trapped from streets of Shimla and banished to the jungles -- a technique to reduce their population.
"Translocations have not resolved the conflict rate, conversely such translocations shifted the problem to new areas instead of resolving the issue," said Rattan.
Kuldeep Singh Tanwar of Kheti Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, an NGO working for the cause of farmers, told IANS the monkeys should either be eliminated professionally by hiring hunters or the forest department should set up committees at the panchayat level to kill them.
He said lifting the ban on the export of monkeys for bio-medical research is the humane alternative to check their rising numbers.
The central government had banned the export of wild animals in 1978.
A large number of macaques were captured regularly for export to be used as subject for biological research.
After the ban of its export, its population rebounded and achieved a positive exponential growth rate, says the wildlife wing.
Along came the drastic shift in feeding and social behaviour of the macaque.
They started seeking food from humans.
Many local people and tourists started provisioning them more out of religious beliefs.
The abundance of human food and adaption of macaques to human habitat saw shift of human-macaque interface, turning from positive to negative, and the shrinking habitat made them spread out to more human settlements, it says.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at email@example.com)