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Monkeying Around


Through the years, foreign journalists in India have been fascinated by the monkeys who roam free on the streets. Aditya Raj Kaul takes a look at some of the resultant reportage
ADITYA RAJ KAUL | New Delhi, August 3, 2012 18:36
Tags : monkeys in india |


Rone Tempest of Los Angeles Times in her December 5, 1986 report titled, Tailed Terrorists in India beautifully narrates an incident where Donna Hughes and her 2-year-old son driving through the roads of New Delhi singing rhymes, are attacked by a “raging rhesus Macaca mulatta monkey”. It goes on to point a serious safety hazard posed by the monkeys that run wild in the open. Tempest also puts on record a blaring headline of The Times of India newspaper at that time, Simian Terror Plagues Capital, which goes on to say that “Gangs of monkeys . . . reinforced by fresh groups from neighboring areas . . . have been causing havoc”.

While the monkey terror on the streets of New Delhi and elsewhere has drastically reduced over the years, foreign journalists have continued to be fascinated by them. Thanks to The Monkey Inspector’s Report (, a blog run by an anonymous chronicler who has tirelessly placed a simian history of journalism in India what it claims is “a tribute to the indefatigable reporters who bring news of India’s monkeys to the world”. A look through the blog is an interesting commentary on India as a whole.

One of the earliest reports on the monkeys in India has been traced till now is attributed to AM Rosenthal of the New York Times on March 2, 1958 titled, Red Tape tangles India’s monkeys.

“More than 5,000 small monkeys and two chartered planes have been grounded at New Delhi’s airport by Government red tape. It may be a break for the monkeys but it is driving the exporters frantic”, writes Rosenthal. This is how “a legend of American journalism files one of the earliest dispatches from the monkey beat”, explains the anonymous owner of the blog. Abraham Michael Rosenthal or “AM” as he was known, had joined the New York Times in 1943 and went on to work with them for 56 years. He died in 2006. Between 1954 and 1967, Rosenthal did several stints in India apart from several other countries such as Pakistan, Japan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Ceylon, Vietnam, Poland and Africa among others.

“Demigods shouldn’t have to suffer the indignities that India’s monkeys do these days”, writes Paul Watson of Los Angeles Times in its May 21, 2001 piece titled, Sacred and Sinister Simians Roams New Delhi’s streets.

“Monkeys may be the earthly legions of the Lord Hanuman, the monkey god, but they are also marauding gangs accused of stealing everything from food to sensitive government files, pulling off women’s clothing and even killing people”, he continues.

Last year in May, Elizabeth Flock of the Washington Post wrote an interesting tale of a monkey in her report, Pakistan ‘arrests’ monkey for crossing India border.

“The monkey capture comes on the heels of several blow ups between the neighbours and arch rivals”, she tells us.

“The capture may be payback for an incident last year, in which Indian police detained a pigeon and kept it under armed guard after it was caught on an alleged spying mission for Pakistan. The pigeon was found with a ring around its foot, and a Pakistani phone number and address stamped in red ink on its body. It is unclear whether the bird was ever released”, she elaborates.

One of the most recent reports has come from Gardiner Harris of the New York Times on May 23, 2012 in his piece A Modest Monkey Proposal.

“India has a problem with an abundance of aggressive rhesus monkeys in its cities; there is a push in the United States to severely limit the use of chimpanzees in federally-funded studies… Could a solution be in the offing to both problems?” he asks, probably tongue in cheek. In the 1970s, India had put strict measures for monkey exports after concerns about experiments being performed on them.

“Whether monkeys from urban settings like Delhi might suffice is not clear, but for India – which is struggling under a mounting trade deficit – any increase in exports might help. Concerns about the monkeys’ treatment during experiments could be allayed with better oversight… Monkeys are famous for their cooperative grooming behaviours. Perhaps global trade could follow a similar pattern?” he concludes.

And God Said, Let there be Monkeys, wrote Pamela Constable of the Washington Post on September 21, 1998. “Today, despite a 1978 ban on exporting monkeys, thousands are still trapped each year for domestic medical and commercial research. They are widely used to test eye shadow and lipstick, rabies vaccines and birth control pills, as well as chemicals,” she wrote.

Don’t mess with the monkey, writes Tim McGirk of The Independent in his report published June 7, 1996. “If Rudyard Kipling were writing about India in the late 20th century, he might be tempted to change the Jungle Book around. Instead of having Mowgli, the man-cub, raised by wolves in the jungle, Kipling might be inclined to tell tales of the monkeys living in New Delhi who have become eerily human, he writes.

“Monkeys have even invaded the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the regal old viceroy’s palace which is now used by India’s president…It’s a different kind of jungle out there from Mowgli’s”, McGirk concludes.

As this clearly proves, in Delhi, man has been keeping a really close relation with his closest cousin.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017