ISLAMABAD, April 15: Pakistan Wetlands Programme (PWP) has asked people not to approach wild monkeys in the Margalla Hills let alone feeding them as the practice is not only making them lazy but also aggressive.

“We are killing them with our kindness,” said PWP Chief Technical Advisor Richard Garstang who explained that bad habits such as snatching food from humans, especially from children and through open car windows could develop and larger monkeys could even become aggressive, literally biting the hands that fed them.

Monkey bites might cause transmission of serious diseases including rabies, tuberculosis, infectious hepatitis, herpes and even the deadly Marburg (fever, transmitted from animals particularly monkeys). During his wildlife conservation efforts in South Africa, Richard Garstang had seen people die from such bites.

However, these warnings had been falling on deaf ears in Capital Development Authority (CDA) that instead built a wildlife spotting area along road going farther into Margalla Hills. They allowed visitors to get close and feed monkeys and sometimes wild boars with a range of foods from chips, buns, biscuits, popcorns and even chocolates – all harmful items for the wild animals.

The practice, a matter of grave concern for the PWP and the Islamabad zoo, was not just limited to the wildlife spot. Visitors also stopped anywhere along the road (disrupting traffic flow) to feed the wild animals sitting in trees. In many cases, food was tossed to the bonnets of vehicles so that monkeys climbed on the cars to eat while people took pictures from behind the wind screen.

Spokesman for the CDA Ramzan Sajid was unavailable for comments over the issue. However, the PWP said Rhesus monkeys were true omnivores – they could eat almost everything. In their natural state, they ate leaves, flowers, seeds and fruits. They occasionally scavenged insects such as cicadas and grasshoppers, but also ate birds’ eggs and baby birds besides small animals they could easily subdue. They were very resourceful and when one source of food ran out, they quickly shifted to another.

Their feeding habits made them an important part of ecological cycle in the Himalayan woodlands, including Margallas.

Pakistan Wetland Programme further said that several species of fig trees were partially dependent on these monkeys to spread their seeds.

The PWP feared the monkeys could give up their normal healthy diet and begin to feed on finely processed carbohydrates such as chapattis, naans, and pizza crusts. They would no longer forage in the forest and their role in distribution of tree and herb seeds would consequently come to an end.

“By occupying a limited area in the immediate vicinity of the feeding site, their droppings accumulate to unnatural levels in that spot. The monkeys can then become infested with different forms of intestinal parasites. Unnatural levels of starch and sugar in their diet causes tooth decay and monkeys may even become unnaturally overweight,” said Richard Garstang adding that food could no longer be available to the youngsters who normally obtained their share by climbing higher in the trees to seek flowers and fruits out of reach of the heavier adults.

He said the leaders of the troop, being physically stronger, would simply monopolise the food sources that were offered, not sharing it with the others.

The PWP had also seen some monkeys searching for food at dumping places getting injured, they believed, from sharp shards of glass. Such wounds quickly became infected. A senior official and a wildlife manager at Islamabad zoo shared the same concern.

According to the zoo official, making them dependent on humans also made it easier for trappers to capture baby monkeys and illegally sell them or keep them for training as performers.

The PWP urged the concerned departments to help conserve nature in its proper form and discourage the practice of feeding monkeys.

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