With 15-20 calls a day, the Thane forest department’s control room has been flooded with calls of “aggressive” monkeys invading homes and “attacking” them, in the past few months. According to forest officials, the number of calls have gone up this year. “Monkeys have been raiding kitchens and snatching food, and generally harassing people. But calls to fire brigade just got us other numbers,” said Chandrashekharan Krishmurthy, secretary of Hari Kunj, Chembur.
A call to the forest department will get you phone numbers of ‘monkey catchers’ Abdul Hakeem Shaikh, 32, and Shankar Kunchikorve, 37.
In the past three months, Shaikh has handed over 45 monkeys to the forest department, he claims. Shankar Kunchikorve charges Rs 5,000 to catch one monkey. The monkey catching business has caught on because the forest department, with just 2-3 guards, is ill-equipped to “rescue” monkeys. “We just have two or three forest guards and have been asking the corporation to provide funds to employ professionals to rescue monkeys as it comes under their jurisdiction.
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With the increasing calls, we will write again to the corporation,” said KP Singh, Chief Conservator of Forests, Thane territorial wing.
Thane forest department records show that 25 monkeys have been rescued, treated and released in the wild since January 2014, a number disputed by Shaikh. “Sometimes, different officials are present when we hand over the monkeys, protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, so we end up releasing the healthy ones in the wild and they send those that are injured to different NGOs, before releasing them in the wild,” he said.
“Even the forest department officials are weary of handling the monkeys as they get frisky and a large number of them tend to be HIV positive,” Shaikh claims. According to animal activists, it is illegal to capture healthy, uninjured monkeys.
“When we receive calls, we do not offer to go for rescue operations unless the monkeys are too aggressive or injured. The monkeys we have received in the past few months were extremely aggressive and some were severely beaten up or burnt. It’s sad they are treated this way especially because these animals are simply returning to their original localities in search of food,” said Shakuntala Majumdar, Thane Society for the Protection of Animals (SPCA).
“As monkeys are extremely observant, it is not easy to capture them. The same trick cannot be used twice in the same area. Ketamine in bananas and Mangola, their favourite drink, works to slow them down,” said Majumdar. At first, the monkey is enticed with fruits on the ground and then a quick grasp of the hand and the neck and the monkey is caught, says Shaikh, animal rescuer with NGO Manav Abhyas Sangh.
“Since morning, I have received nine calls from Bandra, Andheri, Kandivali, Ghodbunder, Chembur,” said Shaikh. While a private firm charges Rs 2,500 for transporting the 50 kg cage and the animal to the forest department from residential buildings, Shaikh claims his work is free of cost, unlike Kunchikorve, who charges Rs 5,000 per monkey.