Puncturing the few and far between ‘green lungs’ of Delhi has been turned into an art form by government authorities.
The city’s only wildlife sanctuary, Asola Bhatti near Tughlaqabad, is no more a repository of the ridge’s natural fauna like jackals, hyenas and leopards. It has now become a sort of ‘penitentiary’ for monkeys, stray cows and goats – who are picked up from various parts of the city, including Lutyens’ Delhi.
Besides the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) dumping hundreds of monkeys at the wildlife park, dozens of stray cows are being unloaded by trucks here every day for the lack of adequate cow shelters in the city.
Delhi government’s forest department is spending about `8 lakh per month on feeding the monkeys caught from across Delhi. The food requirement is around 2,500 kilograms of fruits and grains daily. Forest officials call it a “total menace” as the monkeys destroy young saplings, the cows and goats raze nests of peacocks and Painted Sandgrouse, and the goats gobble up the grass meant for the Nilgai.
“Then the Nilgai is found running through Delhi roads (in search of food) and dying in an accident,” said a senior forest officer. To add insult to injury, the monkeys and stray cattle bring with them diseases like Tuberculosis that put at risk the entire wildlife population of the sanctuary.
Professor CR Babu, professor emeritus and head of the Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystem (CEMDE) at Delhi University, said, “The issue began in 2000 when a petition filed in the Delhi High Court by the New Friends Colony RWA against monkey problem in their area prompted the judges to look for solutions. Everything was explored -from sending them to Madhya Pradesh to oral contraceptives to the then-newly opened Asola sanctuary.
But the problem has gone out of hand now.” “With hardly any fruit trees in the sanctuary, the government purchases kilos of fruits and grains on a daily basis to keep the dumped animals alive. With the simians surviving on all kinds of food, including rotting and fungus-laden, most of them have now got TB,” Babu said. The TB can then easily be transferred to the wild population that is not immune to these diseases “unlike animals that live around human settlements,” he added.
The monkey population in Asola has grown to over 20,000 over the past 10 years. “With the lack of natural predators like tigers and hyenas, there is no check on their population,” said a senior scientist who has previously worked in Asola.
Advocate Meera Bhatia, who had filed a petition in Delhi High Court on monkey menace in 2001 said it has been 17 years and no solution to the problem has come to fore. “I believe they have got a new contraceptive for the monkeys from USA called Porzine Zona Pellucida (PZP). It is awaiting customs clearance; but if the authorities had really been focused on solving this issue, we would not have reached this desperate point.”