COVID-19 lockdown effect seems to be over for monkeys, who are back to Shimla with a bang from nearby jungle, where they fled in search of food in March end in good numbers with locals staying indoors, no tourists on streets to feed them and the food joints shut.

Groups of marauding monkeys, who went missing from the town few days after the state government imposed curfew on 24 March, can again be seen in parts of Shimla with lockdown easing, take away food joints opening and human activity increasing on streets.

And this time, the primates appear more aggressive due to frantic hunt for junk food they have become habitual of getting in Shimla, right from Pizzas, pastries, patties to ice cream, which was nowhere to be seen with all hotels, bakeries and restaurants closed for days together.

The simians are scaring away people in town, especially women and children, or those who come out alone during a morning walk and are seen creating a ruckus on the rooftops of houses and offices. The wild animal is increasingly competing with stray dogs in town over limited food availability in COVID-19 crisis, which has squeezed their food sources.

“The monkeys are coming back from the forest area to Shimla again, as they have developed taste for food available in the human habitation, which locals or tourists used to feed them. The forest department has been planting 30 per cent fruit trees of the total plantation every year since 2013, but the monkeys have not preferred those,” Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wild Life) and Chief Wild Life Warden, Dr Savita said.

The locals, who had started considering the lockdown a ‘blessing in disguise’ with reference to monkey menace in town, are disappointed as it all turned out to be a ‘temporary phenomenon’. “The animal looks angry this time and this could be more dangerous. The monkeys have already been attacking people, biting them all these years,” said a senior citizen, Dr NK Sharma.

The human monkey conflict has been on the rise in Himachal Pradesh over the last two decades and the primates have been ruthlessly damaging agriculture and horticulture crops in villages, causing huge financial losses, and have been scaring away people in urban localities.

The monkeys are a nuisance in Shimla Municipal Corporation area, as they routinely attack locals and tourists and snatch eatables from them in areas as posh as that of The Mall. In the normal course, the monkey bites in Shimla hospitals are around 2000 in a year. The number of monkeys in Shimla is 1638 at present, according to records.

Monkey menace is one of the key issues of concern in the state and monkey census has been a regular feature in Himachal. The state government has been trying to make efforts to control the population of the wild animals- whether it is sterilisation since 2007 or having got monkeys declared vermin in some hotspots in Himachal.

Senior Veterinarian and Assistant Director with wildlife wing, Dr Sandeep Rattan said as per a recent survey by Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON), Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu with state’s wildlife wing, the monkey populace dropped by 33.5 per cent in HP in last five years.

The monkey population in HP is now 1,36,443 compared to 2,05,167 in 2015. The number of monkeys in the baseline survey in Himachal in 2003-04 was 3.17 lakh.