Dec 10, 2010, 07.45pm IST
SHIMLA: The man-animal conflict has turned ugly in Himachal Pradesh. Farmers in several villages have set aside their farm implements and loaded their guns -- to shoot down monkeys from Friday as the simians have been destroying their crops and fruits.
Under 'Operation Monkey', hundreds of farmers have procured permits from the state wildlife authority to kill the wild animals causing them losses, a move that has angered wildlife activists.
"More than 3,000 farmers across the state have managed to procure permits to kill the wild animals - mainly monkeys, wild boar and blue bull. They will hunt the animals till Dec 23," Kuldeep Singh Tanwar, state convenor of farmers' outfit Kheti Bachao Sangharsh Samiti (KBSS), told IANS.
However, wildlife officials claim that only selective killing of animals has been permitted.
"As per our information, less than 300 permits have been issued by the department till yesterday (Thursday)," said Chief Wildlife Warden A.K. Gulati.
"Permission has only been given to shoot the animals in the fields. Our range officers are monitoring the killings. There would be selective killing and no mass culling. Moreover, the aim of using the ammunition is to shoo away the animals from the fields," he said.
S.S. Chandel, a farmer of Dehna village in Cheog panchayat, some 30 km from Shimla, said villagers have pooled in money to buy ammunition and that seven guns have been deployed in nearby villages to kill the animals, mainly monkeys.
"The villagers have procured 38 permits. By pooling money we have jointly procured ammunition and the shooters have been deployed. We will kill the monkeys on sighting them," Chandel said over telephone.
But their decision to kill the animals has led to widespread criticism from animal protection groups.
"We will discourage any form of mass culling or the indiscriminate issuing of gun licenses. Himachal Pradesh is also known as 'Dev Bhoomi' or land of gods. The state must uphold this tradition and marry it with modern scientific tools of wildlife management," said Arpan Sharma, a spokesperson for Delhi-based Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations.
N.G. Jayasimha, US-based Humane Society's campaign manager in India, said: "We urge the farmers to be more humane to the animals."
Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal informed the state assembly Dec 6 that the monkey menace had reached an alarming proportion and that the government had authorised the chief wildlife warden to allow their hunting along with the wild boar and the blue bull.
"To check their rising numbers, the government has sterilised 23,428 monkeys so far. The sterilised monkeys were later released in their natural habitats," he said.
The wildlife wing estimates that over 900,000 farmers mainly in Shimla, Solan, Sirmaur, Bilaspur, Hamirpur, Una, Mandi and Kangra districts were affected by wild animals. Monkeys, numbering over 300,000, mainly target cereal and fruit crops, causing extensive damage.
Tanwar of the farmers' outfit, however, said the state government was not serious about addressing the simian menace.
"If the government is serious, then it can hire trained shooters to eliminate the problematic monkeys," he said.
Agriculture is the main occupation of the people in the state, providing direct employment to 69 percent of its workforce.