Monkeys in Sanjay Gandhi National Park have developed a taste for junk food.
And the desire is so strong that they have abandoned the forest life to hang around tourist spots like the Kanheri caves and snatch food or food packets from tourists throughout the day, a study by city researchers has found.
Rhesus monkeys appear in batches as soon as tourists arrive and stay till evening, according to the study. They intimidate tourists into parting with their food. “They also scavenge among leftovers and dustbins, looking for bright coloured food packets, in particular. Monkeys are found to be very aggressive, often fighting with each other over junk food.”
Six researchers from Thakur College, Kandivli, specialising in animal behaviour, carried out the study in the Kanheri caves area. Their findings were recently published in the Journal of Experimental Zoology, India.
“Black-faced monkeys or langurs in the park still eat natural food — mostly tamarind — and stay in the deep forests most of the time. And they aren’t aggressive, they are calm,” Mrunmayi Pathare, principal investigator, said.
Researchers observed the behaviour of langurs, rhesus monkeys and bonnet monkeys from dawn to dusk four days a week during the monsoon season (June-September 2011). The team is now studying their behaviour during other seasons.
Vithal Mohite, professor of zoology, Thakur College, under whose guidance the study was conducted, said, “Langurs come to tourist spots around 5.30-6.30am and 6-6.30pm when tourists are not there. But monkeys follow the tourist timetable, mainly to loot food.”
Also, their number keeps increasing with the number of tourists. They observe tourists; if tourists are aggressive, they wait till the time they can lay their hands on the food.
Earlier this year, a US research found dietary transfat used in junk food to increase shelf life is linked to aggression among humans.
Mohite said all types of food should be banned inside the park; so that humans do not interfere with the eating habits of wild animals.
Almost 2 million people visit the park every year. The Kanheri caves see a footfall of 700 on weekends and 300 on weekdays.
Despite repeated attempts, Sunil Limaye, director of SGNP, could not be contacted.