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 Post subject: MONKEY BUSINESS - Rampaging monkeys
 Post Posted: Sun Sep 04, 2005 2:20 pm 
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MONKEY BUSINESS - Rampaging monkeys

Monkey invasions into homes and property all over Sri Lanka have left people in despair with some even taking drastic action on their own to shoot, poison or beat the monkeys.

MAN IN MONKEY BUSINESS

@ Sunday Times

A Senior Lecturer and a Master’s student at Peradeniya University come up with an innovative programme to curb the problem of rampaging monkeys. Kumudini Hettiarachchi reports

He sits chin in palm staring out, eyes darting here and there. Get close and the result is instantaneous. A vicious baring of sharp teeth. What this close simian cousin of humans does not know is that he is a trailblazer in research studies done in Sri Lanka.

The pioneer behind the monkey study is Dr. Ashoka Dangolla, Senior Lecturer of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science, Peradeniya University, with the spadework being handled by Maheshika Rupasinghe, 37, an M.Sc. student whose research is on monkeys.

And Maheshika has spent many an hour gazing at and taking copious notes on eight monkeys (Toque macaques of the genus Macaca sinica) in a major effort to bring about a solution to a perennial problem faced by men, women and children living across Sri Lanka from Kandy to Anuradhapura, from Nawalapitiya to Hambantota and from Pelawatte to Vavuniya.

Monkey invasions into homes and property all over the country have left people in despair with some even taking drastic action on their own to shoot, poison or beat the monkeys.

“Petitions have been sent to high officials and institutions, with people begging and pleading that something be done to curb the monkey menace,” says Maheshika, explaining that three months ago Dr. Dangolla decided to do something about this grave issue. That is how it all started.

Dr. Dangolla has now come up with two solutions to this two pronged problem. The monkeys who are a nuisance come from two groups – the wild troops which swing in, cause damage, bite people and swing out, targeting areas where they find the food they relish mainly in the form of ripe fruit and the lone or rogue monkey which has either been rejected by its troop or tamed by humans as a pet and then abandoned due to various reasons.

“Monkeys reproduce fast and have a baby per year. We have now worked out a procedure for sterilization, both hysterectomies for females and castrations for males that can be carried out in the wild itself,” says Maheshika.

Dr. Dangolla has designed a special trapping cage that can be kept in the wild filled with fruits. When some monkeys are caught in it they can be sterilized and later freed. Explaining how they came about this solution which they had tried out on the loners first, Maheshika says two monkeys of a wild troop haunting the university premises got caught in the cage set for other research purposes. The troop attacked the cage and managed to free one while the leader was unable to get out as the door got shut in the melee.

A team headed by Dr. Dangolla took their chance and castrated the male. “The operation is only about 15-20 minutes. We kept the leader in the cage to check out the after-effects. Everything was fine. The leader was released three days later, and the troop welcomed him with open arms,” says Maheshika.

Sterilization is a long term solution but there will also be short term results, assures Maheshika, lamenting that they need funds to build the special trap-cages. To the query whether monkeys will become extinct, Maheshika shakes her head with a resounding “No”. “Only a few from a troop and not the whole troop will get caught so there is no such danger,” she says.

The other revolutionary development in this groundbreaking research by Dr. Dangolla is the formation of an “artificial” troop with monkeys drawn from different areas and different backgrounds. In the past two years, whenever he heard of a rogue or lone monkey disturbing the peace, he and his team had darted the alleged offender with anaesthesia and brought it back to the university.

There is a motley group of eight such monkeys – five males and three females -- collected over a period of time. (See box for two of their life stories).
Most of them had been tamed by humans but thrown out of home or escaped on their own. Now not only have they been given the rabies shots -- because many are the handlers and feeders who have come out worse for wear in their dealings with these animals having to get sutures -- but the monkeys have also been sterilized. “See how they are living together without any problem,” points out Maheshika leading us to a large specially-designed cage complex near the faculty.

While all of them look alike to our inexperienced eye, Maheshika knows them individually for she has spent hours studying their behavioural patterns of which there are 23 including self-grooming, social grooming, aggression, play fighting and also fighting.

“That is No 1,” says Maheshika and there sits the leader of the “artificial” troop, turning his back on the others looking surly and belligerent. In the other corner is No. 4 sprawled on the floor, tummy up, legs and hands stretched out, utterly relaxed and very much the Casanova, while two others are meticulously and nimbly parting his fur and looking for fleas.

After they were collected, a decision was taken to gradually introduce the males to each other, with the sliding doors and contours of the cage being designed with this in mind. “The aim was to see whether these monkeys would establish their own hierarchical order and select their leader though they were not linked before, forming an artificial troop,” says Maheshika.

The task was a difficult one – there were five grown-up males with their individual eccentricities and foibles. The researchers would let one into a corridor and then gradually release another. The battle for leadership was on. Within a few weeks, there were two contenders for the top post – No. 1 and No. 4. The fighting was bitter, leading to treatment, patching up and a near-amputation. “In desperation we played the final card – that of providing partners for them.”

Two of the three females were let loose among the two ferocious males engaged in a do or die fight for dominance. “It was amazing,” smiles Maheshika. The result was incredible – both were felled by the charms of the fairer sex. No. 4 also gracefully left the ring, saluting No. 1. “There was only play-fighting between them thereafter,” says Maheshika, making us recall how “human” they seemed to be. From that day No. 1 was the leader.

Now the final step is awaited – the release of this artificial troop to the wilds. “We are scouting for a location. The ideal place will be a small, lush island in a wewa with plenty of monkey food. We’d like to monitor them but radio collars are very expensive,” adds Maheshika.

Beleaguered people can now let out a sigh of relief – for there seems to be an answer to the monkey menace, an answer that is in keeping with animal rights and is environmentally and socially friendly.

The tricky one and the sadistic one
No. 1 had been tamed and most likely abandoned, when he rebelled. Hitching a ride on a pony from an army camp near his haunts, he would jump off at the “thun bar” junction with three liquor bars. There he would drink to his hearts content, encouraged by the people who frequented the bars who offered him “shots”.

After that it was monkey tricks for him but terror for the people living in the area. He would rampage through the streets attacking people and damaging homes and property.

Meanwhile, No. 5 had a sadistic streak. Believed to have been tamed and then abandoned, he had joined a pack of stray dogs ruling the land he surveyed and instilling fear in women. Swaggering up to any woman passer-by, he would nonchalantly tug her skirt or cloth up. When the woman screamed, she had to face his wrath, a quick attack – a bite or a scratch here or there.


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