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In New Delhi, a good monkey catcher is hard to find

A monkey family takes cover from the rain inside the Nehru park in the old quarters of New Delhi in July 2006.

Desmond Boylan/Reuters/Desmond Boylan/Reuters

You can't hire a qualified monkey catcher in this town for love or money.

So says the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the body tasked with providing civic services such as garbage collection and road repair. Since 2007, the MCD has also been under court order to catch the monkeys that run amok through the city and to relocate them to a wildlife sanctuary on the edge of town.

But the MCD went back to court this week to say it cannot meet that responsibility because it can't hire monkey catchers, despite running dozens of newspaper advertisements and scouring the monkey-management world.

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"In spite of all efforts, only one monkey catcher has turned up … to undertake this work," the MCD said in its request to the court, according to The Indian Express. "This in turn has resulted in a lot of difficulties in dealing with the monkey menace."

Reliance on untrained labour means the monkeys are winning, the city said.

This is no joking matter. In 2007, the deputy mayor of Delhi, S.S. Bajwa, died of head injuries after he fell from his terrace: He was set upon by a troop of monkeys while reading the morning paper.

Monkeys are trapped but not killed here in part because of reverence for Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, and because a powerful animal-rights lobby insists they be humanely relocated.

Since 2007, the MCD says, it has relocated some 12,850 monkeys. But thousands more continue to leap in packs from rooftop to rooftop in residential areas – they have also shown a preference to colonize the area of New Delhi home to many government offices.

Some ministries have full-time employees whose job it is to patrol the outside of the buildings and catapult pebbles at macaques who are reaching in open windows for snacks or, failing that, computer keyboards, handbags and files.

Last year senior officials at the state electoral commission complained to the MCD that monkeys had repeatedly trashed their office and chewed through their computer cables, rendering them unable to work.

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The MCD wants monkey responsibilities shifted to the wildlife branch of the Delhi state government.

It has only three monkey catchers on its roster, and upping the price paid per monkey – from $8 to $10 to $15 over the past four years – has made no difference. City spokesman Deep Matheu has explained that religious sentiment keeps some people away from the job, but the main problem? People are scared of monkeys.

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Latin America Bureau Chief

Stephanie Nolen is the Latin America correspondent for The Globe and Mail.After years as a roving correspondent that included coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Stephanie moved to Johannesburg in 2003 to open a new bureau for The Globe, to report on what she believed was the world's biggest uncovered story, Africa's AIDS pandemic. More

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