Sunday, August 28, 2011

Battle of the monkeys

By Lalit Raizada, Special to Gulf News

(Gulf News) It was an unusual sight — something that I found hard to believe. About five to six dozen monkeys (rhesus macaque) of all ages and sizes had ganged up. Squeaking and screeching loudly, they were trying to scare away a black-faced langur that had been, in fact, brought to frighten and chase away the simians from a colony. But what actually happened was just the opposite.

From times immemorial, the long-tailed langur has been known for instilling mortal fear in simians. In my childhood, I was told that the langur, which is heavier in built, could easily tie a monkey with its long tail and kill it by banging it on the ground. This genetic trait had given the langur supremacy over their short-statured cousins.

I have been a witness to the terror these brown monkeys had spread among the residents of a colony and made their life miserable. Moving in hordes they would invade houses even in full glare of the inmates and plunder everything they could lay their hands on. The simians would take away and damage clothes, gadgets and other household articles even from inside wardrobes.

As the frightened residents bolted themselves up or watched helplessly from behind partially-opened doors, the monkeys would ransack kitchens and even refrigerators. For some years now, this otherwise herbivorous species has been noticed enjoying even raw eggs!

It was after many instances of large scale plundering and biting that the residents hired a langur to shoo away the rhesus monkeys. The plan worked but it led to another problem. The scared monkeys moved their activities from colony X to colony Y. When driven out from there, they invaded yet another locality and, interestingly, returned to colony X while the langur was doing its job in Y or Z colonies. So, the chain never broke.

Everybody realises the fact that unchecked deforestation has dislodged wild life including big cats, monkeys and other animals from their natural habitat. Rendered homeless, they often stray into human habitats only to be driven out.

Reversal of roles

I think it was this constant hounding out of the little brown monkeys that led them to think of devising some strategy. After all, they also need food to survive. And apparently that was how these speechless creatures ganged up to meet the ‘langur-ian' threat to their existence.

It smacked of pure trade unionism. Did someone among them give the call, "Monkeys of the world, unite"?
It certainly looked like that. This time when the trainer brought the leashed langur, the monkeys came together. They squeaked and screeched menacingly at their sworn enemy to scare it away. What a reversal of roles! The hefty langur must have been taken by surprise. But it could not have compromised its age-old supremacy. How could the brown short-tailed monkeys throw any challenge to their long-tailed and heavier cousins? In order to teach them a lesson, the langur tried to attack them. But the leash held by its trainer would not allow it.

Clearly, the trainer had not envisaged such a situation. The man could not have let the angry simians maul the ‘big brother'. After all, it was his only source of livelihood. He got scared. The man acknowledged the simian might. Discretion being better part of valour, the man quietly led away his pet from the battlefield as the army of monkeys jeered at their bullying ‘big brother'.

I could notice a sense of victory, jubilation and relief among the rhesus monkeys. The crestfallen included the langur, its trainer and the people of the colony.

Lalit Raizada is a journalist based in India.

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