Agra - Gangs of marauding monkeys have begun scaring tourists in the 17th century Mughal marvel, Taj Mahal.
An alert has been sounded after a series of simian attacks on unsuspecting tourists visiting the iconic Taj Mahal that draws close to eight million visitors annually.
Tourist guides are now warning visitors in advance to remain alert against monkeys. Last week, a video went viral of a group of monkeys snatching a water bottle from a foreign visitor.
Tourist guide Ved Gautam said: "We always warn our clients of sudden bovine, canine or simian attacks in and around monuments in Agra".
For some time now, tourists have been avoiding lonely romantic walks along the pathways, which are lined up with dense green foliage, though the CISF personnel keep an eye on the monkeys.
Two years ago, catapults were used to shoo away the monkeys, but after a furore by animal rights activists, catapults and sling shots disappeared. The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel and the staffers of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) are at their wit's end on how to cope with the simian nuisance.
"Cats, dogs, monkeys and bees are proving to be big safety menace on the Taj premises," said a local tourist guide.
For a while last year, the Yogi Adityanath government mulled over a slew of measures to insulate the 17th-century Mughal complex from marauding monkeys that attack and snatch valuables from visitors. But nothing came out of the deliberations.
In the city, the number of stray animals, including cows, has increased several folds due to the policies of the state government. Compounding the situation, there has been an acute shortage of anti-rabies vaccines in government hospitals here. On Thursday, a local NGO, Satya MeV Jayate, donated more than 500 vials of the ARV to meet the crisis.
Frequent attempts are made to contain the simian menace in Agra, Mathura and Vrindavan, visited by thousands of tourists and pilgrims daily.
A former Divisional Commissioner engaged an NGO, Wildlife SOS, to round up 10 000 monkeys, but the plan did not materialise due to a lack of permission from appropriate authorities.
But now the situation is really alarming. Monkeys are seen in armies marching from one area to the other. The city has more than 50 000 monkeys.
"Due to the provisions of the Wildlife Act, the monkeys can not be attacked or rounded up without adequate safeguards and precautions. Plans to shift the monkeys to other areas have failed, as no district wants to shelter them," said environmentalist Devashish Bhattacharya.
Indeed, the state faces the biggest threat to peace in the form of exploding simian population in Agra and neighbouring religious shrines in Mathura district and Vrindavan. Pilgrims are almost daily attacked in Vrindavan.
Usually, the monkeys target spectacles or purses, which are returned only when some eatables or cold drinks are offered to the monkeys, Bhattacharya added.
Civic authorities seem helpless in tackling the menace. "We have written so many times to the municipal corporation, but there has been no action, an ASI official said.
"When VIPs like presidents, visit Vrindavan, Langurs are hired, but that also draws the ire of animal lovers. Every shrine has dozens and dozens of the primates. For the pilgrims - especially women and children - negotiating their way through the lanes has always been difficult with cows and stray dogs everywhere. Now, the simian menace has compounded it," convener of Friends of Vrindavan, Jagan Nath said.
It’s a strange world: monkeys can attack humans, but we cannot kill or shoot them, a devotee exclaimed.
Agra Development Foundation secretary KC Jain said: "We plan to file a petition in the Allahabad High Court to demand state government's intervention.
“In the meanwhile, we request everyone to plant fruit bearing trees this monsoon season. On the one hand there is large scale deforestation. On the other hand, trees that are being planted are basically ornamental that can not support monkeys. The whole Agra region is infested by Vilayati Babool, Julie flora, with thorns.
“We have demanded that government agencies clear these trees and plant fruit bearing trees to attract the simian population."
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