Monkeys are living life ‘king size’ on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway eating what ever they can straight out of the hands of passing by pilgrims heading towards the holy cave shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi.
Pilgrims, traveling in their private vehicles and those on board public transport buses normally offer bread, banana and other eatable items including Gur (jaggery) and ‘channa’ (roasted chickpea) to the simian population.
Even though the monkeys get to eat alot but there is an element of risk involved too. Some monkeys pick food items in time and safely reunite with their parent group to enjoy the feast. The unlucky ones get crushed under the wheels of over speeding motor vehicles without eating anything.
The menace is prevalent on Jammu-Katra route in comparison to rest of the national highway. The rate of accidents also go up during peak tourist season.
An average number of 40,000 Mata Vaishno devi bound pilgrims pass through the highway to reach the katra base camp before starting their pilgrimage. Enroute large groups of monkeys can be spotted waiting on the roadside for the passing vehicles to throw eatables.
Large groups of monkeys translocated from various places in Jammu by the state wildlife department cannot ask for more than ready made food items. Efforts made by the state wildlife department to educate the pilgrims/ motorists passing through the wildlife protected areas in Jammu have not yielded fruitful results.
The pilgrims visiting Mata Vaishno devi shrine consider it their divine duty to feed monkeys by stopping their vehicles in the middle of the road without inviting reprimand.It is easy to catch hold of pilgrims feeding monkeys standing next to the hoardings educating them against the practice.
Wild life officials say monkeys used to live in jungles like other animals, but now they are all on roads because we have changed their natural eating habits.Not only they are harmed by running vehicles but also drivers lose their balance and met with accidents.
Wild life officials have also conducted a study on these monkeys and their behaviour pattern.
The officials say during the study we found out that monkeys sitting on the roads near the highways are apparently so bold that they ignore the honking from passing vehicles.These monkeys usually emerge from the forest everyday to look for food thrown away by passengers. They seem to regard themselves as ‘kings of the road’ and get in to the trap.The officials said we need to generate more awareness among the travelers to protect the monkey population roaming freely on the highway.
The Wild life officials said despite running an awareness campaign on broadcast media and designing bill boards fixed on both sides of the national highway they have not been able to stop the menace completely.