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India’s preparations for G20 summit must also consider monkeys

If you are ever in New Delhi and think you hear a monkey, don’t assume it’s a monkey. It could be a professional monkey noise impersonator.

Indeed, humans have been trained to mimic the guttural growls and cries of gray langurs, a type of large ape that can scare off smaller species that tend to invade the residences of city officials or disrupt state visits. .

This weekend, impersonators will take on a new challenge: stop monkeys, who often evade guards by swinging through tree canopy, from bursting into the grounds of the world leaders’ G20 summit, the first to take place in India.

The event is important for India on the world stage, and the government does not want the monkeys to steal the show.

“We are doing everything to keep the monkeys away,” said Satish Upadhyay, vice president of New Delhi City Council, in an interview. The campaign includes training 40 people to mimic langur sounds and laying life-size cutouts of animals, which can weigh more than 30 pounds, around the sites.

Each location presents its unique challenges in hosting a large and prestigious event. Gatherings like the G20 summit in Toronto in 2010 and the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999 have been disrupted by protests. Before hosting the Olympics, Beijing, Paris and Salt Lake City tried to hide their poor and homeless inhabitants.

New Delhi also faces issues such as air pollution and its reputation as an unsafe city for women. Amid India’s G20 promotional blitz, advocates say the city’s poor have been hidden away.

And then there are the wild monkeys, mainly rhesus macaques.

They are not shy. They steal food and chase pedestrians. They sometimes take buses and subways. They attacked patients in hospitals, invaded the Ministry of Defense and the Prime Minister’s Office and went on a rampage in the Indian Parliament building.

Such antics sometimes have deadly consequences. In one extreme case, a deputy mayor died in 2007 after falling from his balcony while trying to scare off monkeys with a stick.

“Monkeys are nasty and they can come to your table, any house in Delhi,” said Abdul Khan, a freelance monkey noise impersonator in New Delhi, whose uncle once used live monkeys to hunt. the little ones. “It doesn’t matter how many security guards you have outside the door.”

A number of Indian and foreign media outlets kicked off their G20 coverage last week with reports on the government’s plans to scare away the macaques. Manisha Pande, editor of Newslaundry, an Indian media watchdog, said such coverage was “as cliché as it gets” and that many Indians were “pretty annoyed to see the foreign press regurgitating the same story of monkey “.

She said she could not recall any event or summit in the country having been disrupted by monkeys.

“That said, monkeys are known to be an urban threat when it comes to Delhi and many other cities in South Asia and Southeast Asia, just as seagulls are a threat in no any European coastal city,” she said.

The deployment of monkey impersonators on state visits and other important functions is a relatively new tactic in Delhi, and it is far less aggressive than those used by city officials in the past: human monkey hunters and real gray langurs, not to mention fronds, stones. and tranquilizer guns.

In 2012, the national government banned the use of real langurs, after activists said the practice amounted to animal cruelty. Most of these langurs were taken from the wild in violation of Indian laws, said Valentina Sclafani, a psychologist at Britain’s Lincoln University who has studied primate behavior.

Another challenge is that in Hinduism, India’s dominant religion, monkeys are seen as representations of a deity and some people like to feed them as a traditional offering.

Delhi officials therefore began looking for other options. The Langur voice impersonators, for example, were part of a larger effort to clean up the rough edges of Delhi ahead of President Obama’s 2015 state visit.

But does such mimicry really work?

Emily Bethell, an expert in primate behavior and social cognition at Liverpool John Moores University in Britain, said she had found no peer-reviewed studies on langur vocal mimicry as an effective strategy for contain a population of macaques.

Yet, she says, this practice appears to be based on a good understanding of macaque behavior.

“We can’t know if they can mimic these calls so closely that a macaque would interpret them as coming from a langur without rigorous scientific testing,” Dr Bethell said in an email. “However, macaques may be familiar with humans making these calls and associate them with a threat, which might be enough.”

Dr Sclafani also expressed cautious optimism about the practice, saying there is evidence that macaques can recognize and respond to alarm and territorial calls from langurs under certain conditions.

A hypothetical disruption of the G20 could threaten the government’s ‘meticulously built’ reputation for event management and give the political opposition enough to attack Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party ahead of the next EU-level elections. state, said Sanjeev MA, a professor of marketing at the Jaipuria Institute of Management in Lucknow, India, who has studied Indian officials’ crisis communication during the coronavirus pandemic.

If monkeys were to be killed, he added, it would upset members of India’s Hindu majority and allow the opposition to question the government’s religious sensitivities.

Mr. Upadhyay, the city official, refused a reporter’s request to interview some of the copycats. He said their work was part of ongoing research by forestry officials to find new ways to scare the monkeys away.

He said he was confident in the chances of success of the imitators at the G20.

“Will it be 100 percent effective?” he said. “It does not work like that.”