Monkeys Run This Town

Muhammad Lila

DELHI, India – In most American cities, seeing real-life monkeys usually involves a visit to the zoo.

In Delhi, the monkeys come to you.

“They’re everywhere,” one angry neighborhood resident explains. “My kids can’t even play outside because there’s so many of them.”

There are no official numbers, but estimates suggest there are tens of thousands of monkeys roaming Delhi’s streets. The city’s large tree canopy and forests offer the perfect natural habitat for the monkeys to live. But in several areas, particularly certain upscale neighborhoods, there are more monkeys than people.

Generally, the monkeys are harmless and don’t interact with humans, but in large numbers, they’re now causing serious problems. In Delhi, most houses store drinking water in rooftop water tanks. The monkeys, who climb walls and traverse from rooftop to rooftop with ease, have learned how to open the tanks. When they drink from the water, it contaminates the entire supply.

Other monkeys have grown more bold, entering houses, stealing food and clothing, breaking windows, defecating, and terrorizing residents.

“They watch us and see what we (humans) do,” one resident explains. “Then they copy it. So if they see us going into a fridge for food, they’ll try to do the same thing.”

Some have even learned when humans take their lunch break, routinely following them at specific times of the day to the local market or roti shop, knowing that food will be available.

To fight the growing monkey menace, the city has hired what they call professional “Monkey Men.” They are paid to patrol the streets and scare off the monkeys by mimicking the sounds of langurs – bigger, more dangerous monkeys that are natural predators for the smaller monkeys more common in residential areas. They go from neighborhood to neighborhood, grunting and throwing sticks to scare the monkeys off.

“If there’s just one of them, anyone can take a stick and just ‘shoo’ them away,” one of Delhi’s Monkey Men tells us. “But when they’re in a group, they’ll attack.”

And when the Monkey Men don’t work, the city calls in its real hired guns – langurs themselves. Secured on a leash with their handlers nearby, the langurs are dispatched after residents call with complaints of monkeys gone wild. With large teeth and roughly twice the size of the smaller monkeys, the mere presence of the langurs keeps the monkeys away. When the smaller monkeys don’t disperse, the langurs are trained to attack – slapping, hitting, and biting the monkeys until they leave.

The langurs, of course, aren’t a permanent solution. The smaller monkeys come back, they always do. In the past, residents had resorted to leaving poison-laced bananas on rooftops, but the monkeys have learned to smell for the poison and will no longer touch the bananas. There’s also a city bylaw that prevents residents from physically harming the monkeys. So for now, Delhi’s army of Monkey Men and langurs are effectively the only line of defense.