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India Pays 40 Actors To Mimic Large Monkeys To Solve Infestation Of Smaller Monkeys

Recent History | March 13, 2021

Monkeys above Chandni Chowk, Delhi. (Chris Goldberg/Flickr)

The people of New Delhi, India are dealing one of the most mind-boggling infestations of the 20th century: monkeys. Cute as they may be, the macaques have overrun the area and created mass chaos. There seemed to be an easy solution: The estimated 40,000 monkeys in New Delhi have no problem interacting with humans, but they balk at confrontation with other monkeys. Unfortunately, it's super illegal to make monkeys fight, so the government started paying 40 actors to pretend to be giant monkeys to scare the smaller monkeys out of town.

Monkey Trouble

The red-faced rhesus macaque didn't just set up shop in New Delhi one day. They've always lived in the hills of northern India, but as cities expanded into their natural habitat, things got heated. Their natural food sources were damaged to the point that it was eventually easier to find food in the city, and it didn't help that urban dwellers were so charmed by the exotic primates that they were more than happy to feed them by hand. It stopped being cute, however, when the interaction led the monkeys to lose their fear of humans and eventually become aggressive if their demands for food weren't met.

It's not just the people of New Delhi suffering under the macaques' rule. They cause a ton of property damage, even breaking into government buildings and destroying documents. When the 3,000-year-old holy city of Varanasi laid fiber-optic cables to roll out WiFi through the area, hundred of monkeys chewed it up before it could be used.

Rhesus macaque in New Delhi. (Eatcha/Wikimedia Commons)

Gorilla Warfare

The first real plan to address the macaque infestation was to pit them against black-faced langurs, a larger, more aggressive monkey. Animal rights activists quashed that idea in 2014, arguing that it was cruel to keep langurs captive for the sole purpose of fighting monkeys, so officials in India decided the next best thing was to dress adults like giant monkeys.

Seriously. Referred to as a "very talented" group of "ape repellers," the 40 men with this job roll in wherever there's a monkey crowd in their costumes and whoop and bark to clear the area. As contract employees with the government, they make good money to monkey around, even if the effect of their work is only temporary. More often than not, the macaques bail as soon as the actors show up, but they return once the men clock out for the day.

Monkeys in New Delhi, India. (Adam Cohn/Flickr)

A Monkey In The Wrench

As fun as the idea of ape repellers is, they're only a Band-Aid. Experts believe only more drastic measures will get rid of the monkeys in New Delhi for good, none of which are as fun as putting on a fur suit and banging a stick on the ground, including sterilizing the critters and strengthening laws regarding their use in biomedical research and export from the area to keep the population in check. It's a tall order, so as Indian urban centers continue to expand, people may have to get used to living alongside these strange bedfellows.

Tags: animals | India | Recent History

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.