One of India's busiest mountain highways is to be cleared of monkeys after complaints that hundreds of primates are causing accidents and harassing commuters.
By Baldev Chauhan
BBC correspondent, Simla, Himachal Pradesh
Some weeks ago nearly 2,000 marauding monkeys were captured in two towns in the northern hill state of Himachal Pradesh and relocated to forests.
Hundreds of monkeys have been captured recently
Following the success of that operation, forest department officials have now decided to do the same along the 90km-long Kalka-Simla national highway and release them in the wild.
"Monkeys have become a nuisance for motorists, mostly tourists. They are also causing large-scale damage to crops along the winding road in Solan and Simla districts through which the highway runs," says state wildlife chief AK Gulati.
Experts along with wildlife officials are expected due to begin the operation shortly.
"According to the latest count, some 2,035 monkeys reside along the Kalka-Simla highway.
"Our effort will be to shift as many simians as we can as they are a traffic hazard and sometimes cause accidents," Mr Gulati said.
Monkey-catching experts have been brought in from other states and the national capital Delhi to help the wildlife department in their task.
The move followed an order of the high court after complaints that the monkeys were becoming a menace.
Officials say the monkeys attacked anyone carrying food, rummaged through dustbins and littered the place while people looked on helplessly.
There have also been growing cases of monkey bites in the state capital, Simla, which is a popular tourist resort.
But the wildlife department's moves have invited the ire of animal lovers.
"The method of capturing them in cages and keeping them locked for long periods before releasing them is highly crude and causes a lot of trauma to the animals," says Rajeshwar Singh Negi.
"Even if relocation of monkeys helps get rid of them from towns, we have already seen that new troops have entered the town in recent weeks," Mr Negi told the BBC.
"Relocation could also help spread diseases caused by monkeys from area to another," he said.
Some people believe that a more effective way of dealing with the menace would be to sterilise the monkeys instead of moving them from place to place.
But wildlife officials are nervous about taking that step since such a large-scale sterilisation of monkeys has never been carried out so far.
"The final decision regarding sterilisation of monkeys would be taken after an in-depth study of similar operations elsewhere," said Mr Gulati.
"So far we have not got any negative feedback about the relocation of the 1,900 monkeys. But the impact would be seen on a six-monthly census to be carried out next month," said the wildlife chief.
The wildlife department also wants the central government to fund a project to check monkey menace in the entire state.
The state has spent around 2.1 million rupees ($47,000) so far.
The first ever count of monkeys in Himachal Pradesh was undertaken in December last year.
It revealed that the state has 378,860 monkeys.
Langurs, the larger black-faced primates number 55,180 with females outnumbering males.