World’s only monkey jail ‘to be turned into school for delinquent chimps’

Mystery surrounds the fate of up to 100 rogue monkeys who used to be held in the world's only purpose-built jail of its kind in India.

The prison, in a wildlife park near the city of Patiala in Punjab state, was built to house monkeys deemed too violent even for the wild.

There are thought to be at least 65,000 wild monkeys in Punjab state alone, and a small minority caused so much havoc, that officials felt there was no choice but to lock them up.

The jail at the Motibagh Bir Zoological Park was first reported on back in 2002, but by 2009, it appeared to have shut.

Back when the jail opened, it was home to just 11 monkeys apprehended by game wardens, mostly for stealing and attacking people.

Because of Hindu beliefs in Hanuman, the monkey god, the primates cannot be put down by authorities.

The Daily Telegraph at the time reported how the monkeys at the prison would "snarl and glare at visitors from their heavily-barred cages".

But there was evidence that the penal system was working for the monkeys, with two of the animals released early for exhibiting good behaviour.

Reports said the pair had managed to stay out of trouble.

Then-jailer Ram Tirath said the remaining primate inmates were too violent to release.

"All 11 monkeys are hard cases who have been apprehended by game wardens for thieving, terrorising and biting people," he said.

"It's unlikely any of them will ever be paroled."

Since then, the problem of violent monkeys in India has only got worse as deforestation and spreading urbanisation destroys the animals' habitats, forcing them to live closer to humans and even into the cities.

Monkey attacks were reported at the nearby Punjab Agricultural University, while another pair were even caught stealing handbags from women in the street.

Some of the monkey attacks, however, were a result of direct human intervention.

Wildlife officials believe some of the arrested monkeys were trained by thieves to rob humans, while lorry drivers used the animals as guards for their vehicles.

Some entertainers would also use abused monkeys as part of their act.

Other monkeys were pets that were abandoned by their owners when they became violent or rebellious.

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In 2009, Indian wildlife officials reported that the jail would be closed and instead turned into a school to teach the monkeys to behave better.

Officials in Punjab said delinquent monkeys posed a growing menace to residents.

Chief wildlife warden RK Luna told the BBC about some of the problems the cheeky monkeys could cause.

Macaque monkeys native to India's northwestern regions close to the border with Pakistan can get aggressive, and often destroy TV antennae, tear down clotheslines and damage parked scooters and motorbikes.

"Besides people landing in hospitals after encounters with monkeys, the animals also often get hurt when house owners try to chase them away or keep them out by using live electric wires and other means," he said.

The proposed monkey school was planned to take in the "worst offenders" and put them on a crash course to learn good manners.

"We have proposed a composite facility where scientific methods will be employed to change and alter the social habits of the monkeys," Luna added.

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Wildlife officials hoped the school would help reduce the monkeys' aggression and train them to behave more like wild animals.

There were plans to turn the school into a temporary home for up to 100 rogue monkeys.

Luna explained that the centre would start with 15-20 animals, and be built alongside a quarantine area and veterinary hospital.

The monkey rehab centre was planned as an extension of the zoo, which is housed in a thickly forested area once home to the royal hunting grounds of the prince of Patiala.

This was to replace the earlier jail, and Luna at the time said work would begin immediately.

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But sadly, plans for the school then seemed to fade.

Daily Star Online approached various wildlife officials in Punjab state to find out what had happened to the planned monkey rehab centre.

Meanwhile, monkey attacks continue to cause chaos in parts of India.

Last year, two people were killed in a murderous monkey rampage in a village in the Chandusi region in northern India.

Earlier this month in Punjab, marauding monkeys took over government offices belonging to the Punjab and Haryana Civil Secretariat.

The Indian Express reports that the animals had become so aggressive that guards at the building had taken to "avoiding eye contact" or running away to avoid provoking them.

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Monkey attacks are not just an issue in India.

Last month, Daily Star Online reported on herpes-infected monkeys in Florida attacking humans in a violent rampage.

There are fears coronavirus could also be affecting wild monkeys that have become overly dependent on humans.

Earlier this week, there were reports of hordes of starving monkeys storming empty streets in Thailand .

The monkeys in the town of Lopburi have become used to taking food from the swarms of tourists who love to feed them, and so have lost some of their natural hunting instincts.

Shocking pictures showed the animals fighting over a single banana in the usually crowded streets.

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