By Alistair Scrutton
NEW DELHI, Nov 13 (Reuters) - First it was the death of Delhi’s deputy mayor, who fell after a fight with monkeys on the balcony of his home last month.
Then, 25 residents were bitten, scratched and mauled by a lone monkey which went on the rampage in the capital last weekend.
The monkey reportedly tried to snatch several infants before being beaten back by residents armed with sticks and metal bars. "Primal Invasion" read the headline in the Hindustan Times.
Authorities are struggling to contain primates that are stubbornly resisting efforts to portray New Delhi as a modern, clean and globalised capital.
The city of 14 million people is growing quickly and experts say monkeys are increasingly being forced out of forests to lead urban lives, putting them on a collision course with humans.
It is a pattern seen across India as the economy booms. Elephants, leopards and tigers are also coming face to face with man as cities sprawl into their former habitats.
Monkeys are a regular sight in New Delhi. They can be seen in groups climbing outside government ministries. Troupes lounge on pavements, oblivious to the chaotic traffic around them.
But culling monkeys has never been an option as many Hindus worship the monkey god Hanuman, seen as a symbol of strength, perseverance and devotion. And when Delhi tried to shift them out of the city, neighbouring states complained.
Faced with what many saw as a monkey plague on homes, offices and ministries, this year city authorities started to capture and send them to a sanctuary on Delhi’s outskirts.
Delhi government officials say they have caught and relocated around 1,900 monkeys. While there is no census of monkey numbers, officials say thousands still live on the city’s streets.
But a spate of high-profile monkey attacks has made headlines and increased public pressure for the government to act quicker.
"The latest attack was unprecedented," said J.K. Dadoo, environment and forest secretary in the Delhi government. "Monkeys normally operate in groups."
Experts say there is a growing pattern of lone attacks that may highlight the random way authorities are trying to reduce the monkey population in the city.
"Incidents of lone monkey attacks were almost unknown until recently," said Sonya Ghose, founder of Citizens for the Welfare and Protection of Animals and a member of an enforcement panel overseeing the monkey relocation campaign.
"I fear that monkeys are being trapped in a haphazard manner. Monkey catchers are breaking up troupes of monkey families, leaving some monkeys alone without their families."
"Then they have nothing to lose and turn aggressive."
Last year, the Delhi Metro train service hired a larger langur monkey to frighten off smaller creatures after a monkey boarded a train and scared passengers by scowling at them for three stops.
Another langur is on the government payroll to scare off monkeys from Delhi’s top federal government offices.
This year, a monkey sneaked into New Delhi’s international airport, forcing the partial closure of the lounge for more than an hour as it scampered through the international departures area.
Dadoo said the problem was that some people fed monkeys on Tuesdays and Saturdays, seen as auspicious days for the animals.
"That is when we have most cases of monkey attacks, when people try to feed them," he said.
Ghose said she suspected monkey catchers — often villagers from outside Delhi who are paid 450 rupees ($11.5) a monkey — sometimes snatched monkeys in nearby forests and claimed they were caught in the city.
The Delhi residents terrorised at the weekend said the monkey attack was a terrifying experience.
"I thought it was a man at first," Manohar, one of the residents, was quoted as saying in the Times of India.
"It got hold of my son’s leg and was carrying him away but I managed to snatch him back." (Additional reporting by Onkar Pandey; editing by Y.P. Rajesh)