Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)

Now, contracept­ives to control monkey menace

- Nihi Sharma nihis.sahani@htlive.com

The answer to India’s out-of-control monkey menace could be the little pill. Scientists with the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) are trying to control the cheeky monkeys — not spay or neuter the animals but offer them a family planning vaccine called porcine zona pellucida that has shown its potency in America.

The contracept­ive programme, if cleared for use, will be the first in India where dwindling forests have driven the highly adaptable and opportunis­tic monkeys towards villages and cities.

Trials are being conducted in Uttarakhan­d, the Himalayan state that has nearly 150,000 monkeys, according to a forest department estimate. Their numbers are growing fast, and furiously.

Neighbouri­ng Himachal Pradesh too has monkeys on its back, and the fellow hill state tried out a catch-andsterili­se programme to little effect. That got the scientists at WII to look for an alternativ­e. They have been doing a pilot project on oral contracept­ives in a 20 square km area of the tree-lined institute, studying monkey behaviour and food habits.

Test results have been satisfacto­ry, and the scientists are confident that the contracept­ive will keep the runaway monkey population down. But the challenge would be to get the Central Drug Standard Control Organisati­on, which reports to the ministry of health and family welfare, on board.

The vaccine is not available in India and must be imported from the US. Each shot would cost at least₹6,000 — a sum that needs to cross multiple layers of bureaucrat­ic turnstiles. “There are levels of approvals needed to procure the drugs. The ministry of environmen­t and forests has cleared the project, but we need permission from the Union drug control department to import the chemical,” senior scientist Qamar Qureshi said.

The chemical comes from pigs. It produces antibodies that prevent the sperm from attaching to the egg. The vaccine could be given to monkeys mixed with their food, or injected.

The scientists believe the contracept­ive can be manufactur­ed in the country.

“The National Institute of Immunology in New Delhi could develop the medicine,” said scientist S Sathyakuma­r, explaining ways to get rid of the tedious permission process and import expenses.

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