AT the Shanti Mukund hospital in Delhi’s bustling Karol Bagh area, a
troop of monkeys at once both amuses and evokes fear among passers by.
They snatch bags, imitate children, and sometimes attack people; yet,
some of the passers by are Hindus who worship the monkey God Hanuman
and their devotion means that the simians are spoilt with frequent
offerings of peanuts and bananas.
Sometimes, the troop forays into neighbouring colonies, breaking into
homes, and attacking children, adults and dogs alike. That is when
Akbar Khan gets down to business.
On a cloudy afternoon in September, the ember-haired Khan is the
picture of worry. Despite all the monkeys he has captured at Shanti
Mukund over the past year, around 30 are still at large, becoming the
source of much heart-burn at the local office of the Municipal
Corporation of Delhi (MCD) where he works, in keeping with his
pursuit, as a monkey-catcher.
With less than a week to go for the Commonwealth Games, already mired
in controversy over allegations of corruption and nepotism, a filthy
Games village, and inordinate delays, the clock is ticking away for
Khan and his colleagues at the Department of Veterinary Services at
MCD to clear Delhi of its animal menace – truant monkeys and stray
dogs in residential areas and tourist spots, rats in the Games stadia
and monuments, stray cattle on the roads, even snakes that have been
driven out of their holes by the copious rains.
Last week, MCD’s rat catchers killed hundreds of rodents on the grassy
lawns of the Old Fort at Pragati Maidan, but as the snake, a cobra no
less, that made an appearance at South Delhi’s RK Stadium shows,
challenges remain. And in this contest between man and beast, even
time-tested tricks can fail. At Shanti Mukund, Khan’s methods have
become familiar to the monkeys. </p><p>Not surprisingly, he hasn’t
caught one in a month — for each catch, the MCD pays him Rs 250, and
the monkeys are released in wooded areas. As are the snakes. The rats
are simply killed. As for the stray dogs, they are sterilised and
vaccinated. “First of all, there is no such thing such as an animal
menace. A city like Delhi has less than 20000 dogs. How can 20000 dogs
be a menace to a city with a population of a hundred lakh? It’s a
menace created by the media. People shouldn’t confuse a clean city
with a city without life,’’ says Ambica Shukla, trustee, People for
Animals, one of India’s largest animal welfare organisations. Still,
Delhi’s rapid growth has only increased instances where humans come in
contact with animals they’d usually encounter in the wilds or in the
zoo. According to New Delhi-based Habitat Library Resource Centre, the
National Zoological Gardens in the city alone houses more than 2,000
species of animals and birds that can be called wild including Nilgais
(a kind of a deer), jackals, snakes, mongooses, monitor lizards, even
leopards. In the past year alone, Wildlife S.O.S, a not-for-profit
organization that seeks to protect humans from animals and vice versa,
has captured and released nearly 30,000 animals into the wild
including snakes, deers and leopards since 1995. Its Leopard Rescue
Centre in Maharashtra has 29 leopards currently.
Then there are the monkeys.
Many of the complaints MCD receives about animals involve monkeys. And
some of them have tragic endings.
A few years ago, Delhi’s Deputy Mayor SS Bajwa died of severe head
injuries after falling off the terrace of his Delhi home following an
attack by monkeys.
Shooter Sanjeev Rajput’s tragedy involves rats, not monkeys. Expected
to qualify for the Games, he failed to do so and claimed a rat had
bitten him before the trials. “The public health hazard is immense but
the rodent problem is grossly underestimated because of the lack of
awareness,’’ says Neeraj Narain, a veterinary researcher with the
Indian Veterinary Research Institute in Bareilley. “Just a pair can
multiply into 800 in a single year. Therefore, catching them has to be
a continuous process.”
Which is what makes the jobs of Puneet Kumar Sharma and his three
other colleagues critical.
The trio is part of what MCD claims to be a 65-member strong team of
animal workers, who, armed with 600 traps and 100 kg of rat poison,
hope to remove rats from the Commonwealth Games venues by
Like most of the deadlines associated with the Games, this one too has
come and gone. Sharma began his work only in late August; his first
stop was the Indira Gandhi Stadium at Ram Charan Agarwal Intersection.
“The rodents were biting into anything worth biting, defecating all
over and just digging into the playground’s soil.”
Sharma’s weapons are rat poison and small rat-traps, which are “still
outdated methods for rat-catching,’’ according to S. Karthick,
Coordinator for rat-catching projects at Global Giving, which connects
donors with projects that need their aid.Indeed, rat-catching
solutions worldwide and even at private firms dealing in pest control
have moved to sophisticated glue pads and electronic rat traps.
More than sophisticated equipment though, what India reallly needs is
an animal control plan for the Games, says a wildlife rescue expert,
especially because more than monkeys and rats could show up at odd
places after the month-long spell of rains in Delhi. “It’s imperative
to have a professional plan in place with trained people like wildlife
S.O.S. especially in the post-monsoon period for the CWG,’’ says
Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder of Wildlife S.O.S., whose
organization has submitted a proposal to the Games Organising
Committee on animal control during the event.
It isn’t that the thought of animal control during the Games is alien
to MCD. The corporation has 13 so-called “’special” teams to control
stray cattle around stadia. And in a meeting with Delhi’s top
administrator, “rodents were indeed identified as a potential source
of embarrassment during the Games,” said an MCD official requesting
anonymity since he is not authorised to speak to the media.
Snakes, unfortunately, weren’t, and the cobra captured at the tennis
stadium has already done its bit to reinforce the stereotype about
India being a country of elephants and snake charmers.
INSIDE MCD’S ANIMAL CONTROL ARMY
Akbar Khan, monkey-catcher(40), spent 17 years as a street performer
with a pair of performing monkeys. One of hundreds of such artists who
work with animals and who live in Delhi’s crowded Kathputli Colony,
Khan had never imagined that he would one day be catching monkeys for
a living — actually, less of a living since he earns less now than he
did then. But one day the police and animal rights activists raided
the colony and Khan sold his monkeys out of fear of being caught and
fined or jailed or both. For a few years, he did odd jobs; then he
joined MCD as an animal catcher. </p><p>Khan’s recruitment by MCD was
logical — he had been a monkey trainer. Puneet Kumar Sharma’s wasn’t.
The rat catcher says he “appeared for an interview conducted by the
Delhi government’s health department and qualified.” He was first
asked to capture dogs, then rats. After four years on the job, he
received training in catching rats for three days. What he knows,
Sharma says, is what has been learnt on the job. Still, his
recruitment looks ordinary when seen in the context of his brother’s
as a cattle catcher. “He had to win a 2-kilometre race in Chhatrasal
stadium after which he was immediately recruited,” says Sharma.