Avoid Attacks by Learning Monkey Speak

Children and women face the brunt of monkey attacks in Shimla
Children and women face the brunt of monkey attacks in Shimla. File photo by Amit

Shimla: When you think of Shimla a few things come to mind; green trees everywhere, steep slopes, cold weather, and monkeys. These brown simians have today become a part of the city’s identity. What started out as an amusement for British officers and their wives has now been declared a public menace.

Monkeys carry disease, damage crops, destroy property, steal things and attack and bite people. Some monkeys have also been blamed for causing accidents on the twisting roads of Shimla as drivers swerve sharply to avoid them.

In 2005 the Supreme Court of India ordered a joint action plan for Delhi and Shimla (like many other Indian cities, monkeys are a nuisance in Delhi too) under which the monkey population was to be controlled by sterilisation and relocation to forests.

But 9 years on, the monkey population in Shimla continues to thrive. Several attempts at relocation have failed because the monkeys always find their way back to the city.

Just like humans, animals do well in cities, mostly because of the garbage we create. The forest doesn’t have any such magical place where food appears everyday without fail. No wonder they don’t like to stay in the forests anymore.

But garbage alone doesn’t feed all of Shimla’s monkeys. So they have mastered different techniques for survival. The monkeys of Jakhu have learned how to kidnap any loose belongings, such as sunglasses, wallets, camera etc. and demand prasad as ransom. Groups of dacoit monkeys at several strategic locations threaten women till they drop their bags. At various places, monkeys are on the lookout for a chance to steal some poor street vendor’s goods. If nothing works, some monkeys resort to begging by grabbing legs of passerby’s.

Of all the problems created by monkeys, attacks on humans, especially children, is the most worrisome.

Apart from the horror and pain of the attack, the victim must also undergo painful anti-rabies shots. This has resulted in a lot of fear among people, especially the locals, in relation to monkeys.

A lot of this fear is actually based on a misunderstanding. There is a gap in understanding when it comes to communicating with monkeys.

A typical scene that occurs regularly in Shimla is when people approach a group of monkeys. They get wary and keep an eye on the monkeys. Pretty soon their worst
fear is realised as the monkeys bare their teeth and start to charge. At this point some people throw stones at the monkeys while others just run away. But this interaction could have been completely different if people knew how monkeys communicate.

Monkeys are men of few words. They have a few specific calls but most other communication is based on body language. In monkey speak, staring at someone translates to, “I’m challenging you and want to fight with you.” Showing teeth means, “I’m not afraid of you and I’m ready for any challenge.”

People stare at monkeys just to keep an eye on them so as not to be surprised by an attack, but the monkeys think that people are challenging them by staring at them. So the monkeys reply by accepting the challenge and showing their teeth. It is a normal monkey reaction to challenges. It doesn’t mean they will attack you but they just try to warn you that if you threaten them they will fight back.

You might think that the monkeys tried to attack you without any provocation. But actually you did unknowingly provoke them and still the monkeys were just trying to ensure their safety and had no intentions of attacking you.

The simple fact is that monkeys, like most other animals, don’t attack without a reason. Monkeys are not predators and humans are definitely not their prey. The only reason a monkey would want to attack a human is to defend itself.

Sometimes attacks happen because of little monkey babies, who scream bloody murder at the slightest chance. So if you get too close to a baby or it gets too close to you and scares itself, it will cry out loudly. And when a baby is in danger all nearby monkeys will come to its aid. This just shows that they are good parents. They stillwon’t attack you straight away and first try to scare you away. So if you find yourself in such a situation, get out of there quickly without staring at any monkeys and you should be safe.

In most other cases no attack happens without provocation. The problem is that people don’t know that they are provoking the monkeys. Tourists especially like to point and stare at these entertaining primates. Tourists are also usually carrying food items and that makes them the prime target of monkeys.

Already boards exist all over Shimla educating tourists not to feed the monkeys.These boards should also include a word about not staring at them.

If you observe monkeys you’ll notice that they don’t look at each other or at people for more than a few seconds. They constantly keep shifting their gaze around. That’s the way you should look at a monkey. If you make eye contact with a monkey, immediately look away. Avoid staring into its eyes because that means you are threatening and challenging it.

These rhesus macaques are an aggressive species which never backs down from challenges. That’s why most of the attacks on humans happen when unknowingly people provoke them.

As much of a menace as they are, there isn’t a need to be so scared of these monkeys if you know how to behave in front of them. Since all attempts at reducing their population have failed, it is high time people are educated about how to interact with these animals. This will ensure the safety of people and monkeys alike. If we can’t get
rid of them, let’s learn to live with them.

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