Monkey Impersonators Hired to Deal With Parliament’s “Big Monkey Menace”

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Maybe the CIA should consider blaming rogue monkeys for all that missing evidence. That'd be harder to pull off in Virginia than New Delhi, but it's at least as good as the current explanations.

A member of India's parliament suggested last week that monkeys were partly to blame for thousands of files missing from the Home Ministry, although he was plainly ridiculing officials who, he claimed, themselves blame monkeys whenever a file goes missing. 

"Files in the Home Ministry are in such a bad condition that old files are strewn all over the corridors," Rajeev Shukla said during a debate in the parliament's upper house. "Whenever a file is lost it is said that monkeys have taken it away. There is a big monkey menace there," Shukla declared, "and in this government there is a minister who is against any action against monkeys."

Everyone was amused, but the joke only works because the monkey menace itself is all too real.

Previous monkey-menace coverage here involved the city of Varanasi, a Hindu holy city where the problem is even worse. See "Tourist Files Complaint Against Primate Thief" (July 17, 2007). This is partly because of reverence for the god Hanuman, who is usually depicted as a monkey. According to this recent report, although more than 400 people are treated for rabies every day in Varanasi, partly due to monkey bites, an official said options were limited since "many Hindus believe the monkey to be a representative of Lord Hanuman and [are] opposed to any operation against them." (Dogs are also to blame but are less exalted.)

But there is indeed a "big monkey menace" in the capital itself, as the New York Times reported in 2012, and file-stealing is not the biggest problem:

Stories abound in Delhi of monkeys entering homes, ripping out wiring, stealing clothes and biting those who surprise them. They treat the Indian Parliament building as a playground, have invaded the prime minister’s office and Defense Ministry, sometimes ride buses and subway trains, and chase diplomats from their well-tended gardens.

This article puts the number of insurgents at about 30,000.

So, what do you do when you're plagued by a horde of little monkeys and it's not politically acceptable to kill them?

Well, you get bigger monkeys.


in Delhi

The main problem is the common rhesus monkey, which is relatively small (males average about 17 pounds). To scare them away, people turned to the langur, which is about twice that size. They aren't natural enemies—langurs are herbivores—but presumably smaller monkeys tend to avoid bigger ones anyway. According to the Times, the langur doesn't actually have to be present, because the smell of its urine is enough to scare the rhesus(es) away. So while the langurs would often go out on patrol, people were also paying their owners to have the langurs pee on things. "Mr. Singh said that he had 65 langurs urinating on prominent homes and buildings throughout Delhi," the Times said of one proud entrepreneur.

But wouldn't you know, there are langur advocates too. The langur is a protected species, and although officials looked the other way for quite a while, they have cracked down recently. It is a crime to own, sell, or rent langurs now, which was very bad news for the langur-men.

It is great news, though, for the 40 humans who have now been hired to act like langurs.

The country's urban development minister told MPs yesterday that 40 people had been hired to "disguise themselves as langurs" in hopes of scaring the rhesus monkeys away from Parliament. This was only one of several measures being taken "to tackle the monkey and dog menace inside and around Parliament House," he said—rubber bullets are another option—but it is not surprisingly the one that has attracted attention.

There might be a translation issue here as to the meaning of "disguise." While this report actually describes the uniform these people supposedly wear ("a smattering of grey, black and white, with a tail to boot"), other reports say the minister meant only that the men had been trained to sound like langurs. "These men are not dressed like langurs," an official said, "but only mimic their voices to terrorise the monkeys." A Wall Street Journal source apparently spoke to one of these "monkey impersonators"—who was guarding a Supreme Court justice's home from monkeys at the time—and he said he growls or waves a stick, but doesn't use a costume.

Officials said that the langur impersonators were only a "stop-gap" measure until better solutions can be deployed. That's good, because there is evidence that the langurs weren't really getting the job done anyway. "People said to get a langur," said one business executive, after a rhesus bit his maid's daughter. He did, "but the monkeys mobbed the langur and beat it up." He didn't blame the langur, really, it's just that the langur was seriously outnumbered. Given that there are only 40 langur impersonators, I hope those guys are getting combat pay, because it won't take too long for the monkeys to figure this out.