The Rise and Fall of Monkeys

After a long history of coexistence and even reverence, the relationship between South Asians and monkeys seems to have soured in recent years. Why?

GettyImages-630083296 monkeys
A monkey, rhesus macaque, is sitting on a wall at Swayambhunath temple in Kathmandu, Nepal, reaching out for an ice cream (Frank Bienewald/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Allana Akhtar


September 12, 2023

Last week, India hosted the world’s top policymakers at the annual G20 Summit for the first time in the nation’s history, but ran into one furry little problem: monkeys. The pesky primates have terrorized government officials in the capital, took over areas around government buildings, and tore up official documents by climbing in through windows. 

Years before that, monkeys kept Prime Minister Narendra Modi from rolling out WiFi in Varanasi after they chewed on the fiber-optics cables. When U.S. President Barack Obama visited India in 2015, the country hired people to bark and swat at monkeys. This time, India erected cardboard cutouts and employed people to impersonate a bigger monkey, the gray langur.

The irony of the G20 monkey problem is that these animals pose a threat because of the same reason world leaders are honing in on India, whose influence has risen sharply in recent decades. Fast growth and industrialization have decimated monkey habitats in northern India and Nepal. Now, the primates are fighting back.

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