KATHMANDU, Jan 24: A group of 30 rhesus monkeys from the iniquitous Biomedical Research Center in Lele, Lalitpur, have been released in the Shivapuri National Park. The release was ordered as per the government´s decision to stop monkey breeding and export to the United States for biomedical research. The decision was taken six months back.
“Thirty monkeys have been released in the park a month ago and a team formed under the park officials will monitor their behaviors,” Shiva Raj Bhatta, the spokesperson for the DNPWC (Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation) told myrepublica.com on Saturday.
Bhatta said that the small group, from among 200 plus monkeys kept at Lele lab, was released to see whether they “adjust” to the wild in Shivapuri. “This is a rehabilitation process itself. We will observe whether the monkeys adjust to the environment in the wild,” he added.
The plan is to check whether the 30 seed monkeys (picked from the wild for research) can live in harmony with the original monkeys from Shivapuri, learn to eat wild food and live in a healthy atmosphere. “This is the first lot. We will release the others as per the team report soon,” Bhatta added.
However, the DNPWC´s decision to go ahead with the hard release has been severely criticized by conservationists and animal rights activists in the country. Accusing it of making a hasty decision, they have claimed that the authorities bypassed the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) guidelines on rehabilitation and reintroduction of the animals in the wild.
“The authorities should have resorted to soft release first to see whether they adjust to wild food,” Manoj Gautam, an award winning activist and the main man behind Stop Monkey Business Campaign in Nepal, said. He added, “There is no scope for experimenting with animals. The monkeys have been released in violation of IUCN guidelines and without understanding the ecology.”
Nepal is a signatory to the CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity), as per which the member states are committed to the conservation of the entire biodiversity.
Reintroduction may cause some problems for surviving wild populations and ecosystems if not properly planned. As per IUCN guidelines, unplanned release may create problems such as transmission of diseases, genetic problems, over-population or fighting with introduced animals. Age-factor, rearing conditions necessary to ensure the development of physical and other abilities needed for survival in the wild, nutrition, trainings, health check-ups, and suitable habitats containing critical resources are some factors to be considered during reintroduction.
The conservationists have also said that the monkeys have been released without neutering, which increases the chance of reproduction, thereby affecting the accommodation capacity of Shivapuri.
Another activist from Animal Nepal said that although the DNPWC has claimed that the 30 are seed animals, no concrete distinction has been made between seed and captive breeds.
“It has been three years since they have been in the lab. Who has made the differences?” the source questioned, adding, “In absence of tracking device and lack of expertise, we will never know what will become of those released.”
The activists have accused the DNPWC of releasing the monkeys without prior consultation with the local partners and in the middle of the ongoing planning on monkey release with the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation.
“We did not know till Friday that they were released,” Gautam said.