A sanctuary for monkeys

2,000 kg of fruit and vegetables are brought in every day to feed 14,972 monkeys living in the Asola sanctuary near Chattarpur.

Written by Aneesha Mathur | Published:October 7, 2012 2:13 am

2,000 kg of fruit and vegetables are brought in every day to feed 14,972 monkeys living in the Asola sanctuary near Chattarpur

In children’s stories,the sound of an ice cream truck brings children out of their homes to follow the ice cream man.

In the Asola sanctuary on the outskirts of Chattarpur,where monkeys caught from various parts of the Capital are released,the sound of a truck trundling down the dirt track brings out monkeys from trees and hillocks to get to the fruit and vegetables brought all the way from the Azadpur sabzi mandi for their daily meal.

Forest department employee Inderjeet starts his day at 4 am when he leaves his home in North Delhi and travels to the Azadpur mandi,where 2,000 kg of fresh fruit and vegetables are loaded into his truck.

He travels with it to the Asola sanctuary. The truck is brought to the forest range office in the sanctuary,and the sacks of fruit and vegetables are checked and weighed.

Black chana,soaked overnight in large drums at the range office,are loaded onto the truck,and a seven-member team,including two men sent by the contractor,goes on a six-km trip around the sanctuary,unloading food onto 12-foot high platforms specially constructed to feed monkeys. Their job is to ensure that the food is not stolen by other wild animals and people living in villages near the 4,700-hectare forest.

Over the years,the Asola and Bhati mines area has been reclaimed by the forest. It used to be a centre for red-sand quarrying.

Since 2007,monkeys caught from various parts of Delhi were released here,after the Delhi High Court ordered authorities to relocate stray simians from the city to the sanctuary. According to forest officers’ records,14,972 monkeys have been brought into the sanctuary since the High Court order.

“It is necessary to feed them so that they don’t return to the city,” says Deputy Range Officer Dharam Singh,who is in charge of the Asola-Bhati sanctuary.

Following the court order,forest officers have also planted over 48 species of fruit- and flower-bearing trees to ensure that there is enough food in the long run.

The forest department has also installed barbed-wire fences all around the dirt road and the plant nurseries to keep neelgai (antelope) and stray cows from nearby villages from destroying newly planted trees.

There are 10 platforms in Asola,and nearly as many in Bhati mines. Six more are being constructed. The men on the truck often throw out handfuls of fruit to monkeys that follow the truck down the winding track. They try to ensure that even the weaker monkeys get their share.

“Different groups of monkeys take turns to come up to the platform and eat. When one tribe is there,the others stay away. Some of the monkeys are very violent and clearly mark hierarchy,” says forest office employee Ram Niwas.

Once the fruit trees mature,it will no longer be necessary to bring in food from the mandi to feed the monkeys,an official says.

However,people working in the sanctuary often have a tough time doing their job. The road is a dirt track ,which turns into a muddy slush during the rains. They often have to trek through the mud without protective boots or rain gear. Sometimes,they are attacked by monkeys. A labourer hired to work on water pipes was bitten by a monkey last month. No medical facilities are provided for people working in the area.

Two men of the Territorial Army man each entrance into the sanctuary round the clock.

They are provided with tiny cement rooms to rest.

The range office itself is a large cement room,with bare-minimum facilities.

A tall,green plastic fence,and crumbling 20-year-old stone walls are all that mark the physical boundary of Delhi’s own wildlife sanctuary,but the sheer contrast between the city outside and the forest is breathtaking.

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