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The Union Environment Ministry has approved the Himachal Pradesh government to declare rhesus macaque monkeys 'vermin', allowing the state forest department to cull them for preventing crop depredation, conflict with humans, and loss of property. This is the fourth time since 2016 that these rhesus macaques, which are classified as being of 'least concern' in the IUCN Red List, have been declared 'vermin'.
In its notification dated April 23, 2020, the Ministry of Environment, Forest And Climate Change said, "The State of Himachal Pradesh has reported harm to life and property, including large scale destruction of agriculture due to the overpopulation of Rhesus Macaque monkeys in areas outside forests. Whereas the Central Government has considered it necessary to balance the local population of this species, to mitigate the damage to human life, crops and other properties of the State for ensuring conservation of wildlife in forests."
"Now, therefore, in the exercise of the powers conferred by section 62 of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 (53 of 1972), the Central Government hereby declares Rhesus Macaque (Macaca mulatta) listed at serial number 17-A of Part I of Schedule Il to the said Act, as vermin and included in Schedule V of the said Act, for one year from the date of publication of this notification in the Official Gazette, in the areas of Himachal Pradesh as specified," it added.
"In our latest monkey population estimation, [we recorded] 1.36 lakh monkeys – a decrease of 33.5% since the last count five years ago," Principal chief conservator of forests wildlife and chief wildlife warden Savita told Seema Sharma, a Chandigarh-based independent journalist, for The Wire Science.
Researchers from the Salim Ali Center for Ornithology and Natural History, Coimbatore, surveyed on December 4 and 5 last year and published the results in March 2020. Nearly 5,000 forest staff and officials were engaged in the survey.
"The monkey-infested areas were divided into line transit patterns. The monkeys in each transit were counted thrice," Savita said. "Since 2007, across the state's seven sterilisation centres, around 1.62 lakh monkeys have been sterilised. This has prevented the birth of nearly four lakh rhesus macaques," she said.
"With the further reduction of monkey population achieved this year, we may not [have to] declare them vermin next year," she said.
However, even without culling, the state would continue the plan to sterilise 20,000 monkeys next year, she added.
Meanwhile, the unscientific killings have raised concerns about its consequences. For instance, farmers have resorted to poisoning the monkeys. And the carcass of a poisoned monkey can be harmful to the animal or bird coming into contact with it.
"Though no method of culling has been prescribed by the wildlife department, the farmers have been directed to hand over the monkeys' carcasses after they have been killed for proper disposal," Savita said. She added that they have not received any complaints about farmers using poison.
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