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Mar 21, 2007
United States


Muhammad Sadaqat
May 15, 2022

A snow-soaked monkey gazes into the camera lens | Photo by the writer

A snow-soaked monkey gazes into the camera lens | Photo by the writer

As tourism in the Galiyat region has increased, the eating habits and behavioural patterns of the area’s native monkey population have changed. Those looking out for the primates are concerned about them becoming dependent on tourists for sustenance, while local farmers consider the monkeys a menace. Can man and monkey find a way to coexist?

It is the eyes that first get me. Frail and isolated from his family members, the baby monkey looks at me with innocence and vulnerability. It is February and the Galiyat region is white with snow. I am on assignment to do a story about the snowfall. The same snow has left the baby monkey soaked. The little creature out in the cold pulls harder at my heartstrings.

While it is not advisable for me to stop my old 1997 Toyota unless absolutely necessary, I just cannot move past the tiny beautiful creature. Maybe I am also driven by an instinctive curiosity to re-establish the thousands-year-old evolutionary relation between monkey and man. I step out of my vehicle and start feeding the infant biscuits. A mistake many tourists have made before me.

The serene moment between me and the infant is interrupted when I hear howling. Soon I see a troop of rhesus macaque, known more commonly as rhesus monkeys, aggressively advancing in my direction.

It is an unusual sight for me. The creatures, usually depicted as friendly and jovial, are in no mood to play. These monkeys clearly mean business.
This may have been an overreaction on my part, but seeing the troop’s advance, I jump back into my car. I have apparently invited the monkeys’ antagonist behaviour by ignoring their large troop and instead choosing to feed the baby. But there is more to the story.


When I am visiting the Galiyat, the region has been temporarily closed following the Murree tragedy in January, where at least 22 people, including 10 children, froze to death. The lack of tourists has made the monkeys more aggressive. They rely on these visitors for food.

Photo by Naveed Akram

Photo by Naveed Akram

It is common for tourists to feed the monkeys in the Galiyat valleys. No matter what season it is, one sees visitors feeding them fruits, corn, biscuits, chips and beverages. It is not exactly a healthy diet for the primates, but it is a diet they are used to.
People also feed these monkeys to make a mannat (pledge to God). This is not unique to the Galiyat and the culture exists in other parts of Pakistan and India. “I bring bananas for them every week on Thursday or Friday,” says Farzana Bibi, a resident of Abbottabad. She has allocated a certain amount from her sons’ incomes to support the monkeys in the Galiyat.

Besides the religiously inclined, on an average day, one may come across troops of monkeys surrounding tourists. Or, more commonly, tourists are seen approaching the monkeys resting on the railings by the roads or perched on pine tree branches, closely observing the movement and gifts their guests have brought to what has been their natural habitat for centuries.
Monkeys in the Galiyat region are very used to human company, as indicated by their usually friendly attitude towards them. But sometimes they snarl at tourists, warning them when they are crossing the boundaries of a friendly exchange. If feeling threatened, the monkeys may attack the intruders. But with the exception of rarely reported minor abrasions to tourists, no major injuries have ever been reported from the entire valley.

The mischievous monkeys also steal and snatch food from the tourists. Excited children, who love to be around the monkeys, are more vulnerable to the occasional attacks.

Raja Fareed, an eatery owner in Nathiagali, has grown up with these primates, closely observing their every move for years. Their angry mood, he tells me, can easily be judged from their howling and snarling. They apparently call on their ‘intruders’ to inform them of where the monkeys’ territory starts. It is a natural alert system.

It is understandable that the monkeys are territorial. After all, this land was their home much before the transformation of the Galiyat valleys into a tourist friendly spot. But as tourism increases and makes inroads into the forests, the monkeys are making more frequent visits to the human population. While the tourists love the primates’ presence, local farmers consider them a menace.

What we see on display is a conflict as old as human civilisation. Settler versus the native. Man versus animal.


A monkey searches for food at a market in Nathiagali during a lockdown in the Galiyat | Photos by the writer

A monkey searches for food at a market in Nathiagali during a lockdown in the Galiyat | Photos by the writer

The name ‘Rhesus’, after a character in the Iliad, was apparently arbitrarily given to the primates by French naturalist and artist Jean-Baptiste Audebert in the book Natural History of the Monkeys and Lemurs (1799). These monkeys have existed in eastern Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and northern Pakistan for centuries.

In Pakistan, according to a 2020 WWF Pakistan article Why worrying about monkey business should be everyone’s business, these monkeys are illegally poached from their natural habitats. These monkeys can then be seen around the country, performing bandar tamashas and putting on shows so monkey charmers can make a quick buck. The practice remains under-researched.

The lack of research does not stop there. The exact population of the monkeys is not known by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife Department. This is cause of concern for policymakers and researchers. The lack of baseline statistics has resulted in limited research on the threats to the Rhesus’ natural habitats.
However, according to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife Department officials, the Galiyat alone have over 10,000 Rhesus monkeys. Dr Ume Habiba, a lecturer at the Wildlife Department at the University of Haripur, also estimates the monkey population in the Galiyat to be between 10,000 to 12,000.
“They are a common species,” Sardar Anwar, a Subdivisional Officer in Abbottabad’s Wildlife Division tells me. “They are neither endangered nor extinct.” According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s ‘Red List of Threatened Species’ also, the species is at a relatively low risk of extinction.
In fact, the population is growing unchecked in the Galiyat. The region is home to a species of monkeys which, according to wildlife experts, give birth to one to three babies a year. Female macaques first breed when they are four years old.
Sardar Khalid, a social activist who cares for the monkeys in his free time, believes that, despite unchecked poaching, the Rhesus’s population is much bigger than the estimates I am being provided with.
While the numbers vary, one thing is clear: the population of monkeys is increasing, while their natural habitat in the Galiyat region is being taken over for tourist and commercial activity.


A tourist feeds monkeys

A tourist feeds monkeys

When the area was closed during January and February this year, following the Murree tragedy, the monkeys suffered. Some social activists from Abbottabad and neighbouring areas highlighted that the monkeys were facing starvation. This brought into focus a hard-to-face reality: the tourists’ offerings have become the primary source of food for these animals.
Some administrative officers, officials of the Galiyat Development Authority (GDA) and social activists tirelessly advocated for the monkeys, demanding a sustainable solution for feeding them. Some even demanded a permanent arrangement of transporting rotting vegetables and fruits to the Galiyat for feeding monkeys.
Ahsan Hameed, a GDA spokesperson says that, during the Covid-19 lockdowns too, they transported tonnes of rotting vegetables and fruits to the Galiyat, and dumped them at points most frequently visited by the monkeys. Additional Assistant Commissioner Galiyat Aminul Hasan also shares similar stories of taking care of the food problem of the monkeys.

Feeding monkeys is a common scene, but experts believe that humans socialising with and feeding the monkeys has, in fact, disturbed their natural eating habits.

The tourists who want to enjoy the company of monkeys, and want to post their interactions with the primates on social media, have changed the food preference of monkeys. According to Anwar from the Wildlife Division, their diet pattern has changed.

"When I am visiting the Galiyat, the region has been temporarily closed following the Murree tragedy in January, where at least 22 people, including 10 children, froze to death. The lack of tourists has made the monkeys more aggressive. They rely on these visitors for food. It is common for tourists to feed the monkeys in the Galiyat valleys.”

These individuals are facilitating human-animal conflict, experts believe. A hungry monkey could attack tourists when not fed. Anwar says that there is plenty of indigenous food in the valley that the monkeys can, and should, eat instead.

During the Covid-19 lockdowns, wildlife experts were hopeful that human-monkey distancing would facilitate rehabilitation of the disturbed ecosystems. Some social distancing from humans would do the monkeys good, they thought.

But even during the lockdowns, people would manage to make their way to the monkeys, feeding them, while posing for social media. The GDA also fed the monkeys rotting fruits and vegetables. Anwar disagrees with this practice and says he has written to the authority on the subject multiple times. This makes the monkeys dependent on humans for their sustenance, he says.
“No threat would come to the monkeys’ lives if we do not throw biscuits and other food items at them,” he tells me. These primates have survived on natural greenery and vegetation for centuries and, according to Anwar, there is an abundance of these in their habitats.

Anwar says that the Wildlife Division has made efforts to stop people from feeding the animals. He says that the monkeys’ behaviour has changed over the years, and they feel motivated to leave the forest areas and come down to the population, scavenging for and surviving on leftover food. This is wrong and must be stopped, the official reiterates.


A mother and her infant

A mother and her infant

“Monkeys have developed brains and are smart,” says University of Haripur’s Dr Habiba. They would not eat food that they find harmful to their life, the wildlife expert says. She does, however, agree that frequent human interaction has exposed the monkeys to multiple threats and the unmonitored feeding by tourists could cause them harm. Roads going through the forests have also disturbed their natural habitat and their movement across the roads also puts them in danger of fatal accidents.

These omnivores are vital for biodiversity and for the ecosystem to function. Yet their growing conflicts with humans are hard to deny. “Habitat destruction and fragmentation, climate change, introduction to exotic species, pollution, overexploitation of resources, hunting, poaching and accidental death are also the threats to these mammals,” observes Hina Jamil, a researcher.
But not everyone believes that separating man from monkey is a critical issue.

Dr Sajida Noreen, an assistant professor in the Department of Forestry and Wildlife at the University of Haripur, says, “Rhesus monkeys are synanthropic in nature [undomesticated species that benefit from living alongside human populations], which helps them adapt in various geographic regions of the world where human populations are settled.” She adds that the monkeys can adjust to a variety of environmental conditions due to their tolerance of a broad range of habitats, including subtropical, temperate and subalpine habitats, as well as urban and other human modified environments.

In Pakistan, they are found in the northern hill regions of Murree, Swat, Kaghan, Azad Kashmir and Chitral. They also live throughout the high hills of the Hazara and Malakand Divisions, and in the Sakra mountains in Mardan Division and the Margalla Hills.

Those working towards increased protections for the monkey population point out that the monkeys are coming to the farms, at least in part, due to the construction of roads and arrival of tourists in the forests.
But while the monkeys may also benefit from their interactions with the human population, in many of the regions listed above, they are considered a nuisance and a severe threat to the livelihood of local farmers.

The conflict between man and monkey is a major issue. The destruction of crops and fruits by monkeys is a problem local farmers in the Galiyat are all too familiar with. The struggle for the same resources and land is ongoing, and can turn ugly.


The fight against monkeys hell-bent on destroying crops is an everyday reality for farmers in the Galiyat valley. People have become accustomed to the intruding monkeys’ attacks.

“I had developed an orchard over an area of about five kanals of land, planting 104 plants of apples, apricots, walnuts, peaches, red and black persimmons, plums, pears and cherries during 2002, with the technical support of a non-governmental organisation,” says Sardar Gohar Rehman Abbasi, a resident of the village Seri Khun Kalan. With this blooming orchard he was sure his income would increase and he would be able to better support his family.
The orchard started giving produce a year before some uninvited guests, the monkeys, started raiding the fruit trees, destroying the fruit at a very early stage. Abbasi complained about his predicament to the Wildlife Division, but to no avail. “Instead they warned me to not even throw a stone at the uncontrolled monkeys, as it was a punishable crime under the wildlife protection laws and could lead to 14 years’ imprisonment,” Abbasi recalls.
The monkey attacks, Abbasi estimates, resulted in a loss of 100,000 rupees per year. He says that NGOs planted 1,200 fruit trees in the area, but landowners had to cut most of them down due to frequent monkey attacks.
Abbasi complains that he and his fellow farmers spend their days taking care of their orchards, spending thousands of rupees every year on fertilisers, insecticides and, above all, protection for their crops. But still they are left with half eaten apples, apricots, persimmons and broken branches.
“Our area had two main agriculture markets, one in Kala Bagh and the other in Kohala,” says Abdul Sattar Khan, another villager. “[These markets] used to facilitate trade and the export of Galiyat’s famous potatoes across the country.” The markets, says Khan, have now ceased to exist as the monkeys’ “unchecked raids” have disturbed the agricultural activities in the area.
Khan says that tomatoes, beans, ladyfingers, turnips and pumpkins are the most favoured crops of the monkeys. He says that a troop of monkeys may comprise as many as a 100 monkeys, that attack the crops and rampage through the farms uncontrolled, destroying anything edible that they find.
Sardar Muhammad Sharif Khan, another villager, shares the names of seven persons, including a woman from his area, who were injured by the monkeys during year 2019 alone.
“We have stopped growing potatoes due to the unchecked attacks and the destruction caused by the monkeys,” says Raja Abdul Waheed, another farmer. Waheed says that he used to earn a decent income growing potatoes until a few years back. But when the monkeys began to attack, he had no choice but to change course.
Following the frequent construction and human activity in the forest areas of Bhagan and the Bakot forest, and with the growing dependence of monkeys on human feeding, troops of monkeys barge into orchards in search of food. They not only forcibly take away the unallocated share of fruits but also damage the plants and tree branches.
“My wife and I throw stones at the invading monkeys climbing walnut trees in the small orchard, but they continue to eat and drop half eaten walnuts”, says Chaudhry Sarwar, a resident of Bakot.
As with many conflicts, the court had to intervene in the conflict between the farmers and the monkeys as well. Abbasi, the owner of an orchard in village Seri Khun Khalan who continued to highlight the loss of farmers’ livelihood because of monkey attacks at different forums, had finally had enough. He moved to the court of the Senior Civil Judge Abbottabad on May 19, 2017, seeking compensation for the loss of fruit and trees of his orchard.
The court heard both sides and some officials of the Abbottabad Wildlife Division also appeared and contested the case on behalf of their department. They stated before the court that none of the monkeys from Ayubia Park, a protected area for wildlife, go to the populated area and the complaint was baseless.
On February 20, 2019, the court ordered the Wildlife Division to pay a compensation of 3.5 million rupees to Rehman for the damage of his fruit trees and land by monkeys due to non-provision of food and negligence by the department.
The farmers also complain that, while the wildlife protection laws provide cover for the monkeys, no one is looking out for them. Painting themselves as helpless victims, they say they just look at the monkeys and can only make loud noises to scare them off. “Shay, shay; Ha, ha,” demonstrates Tamaz Khan, showing the kind of noises they make. Tamaz Khan is another villager who was injured by a small troop of monkeys once when he stopped them from entering his maize field.
But a look at the laws tells a different story.
Section 9A of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife and Biodiversity (Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management) Act, 2015, states that: “No person shall hunt any wild animal by means of a set gun, drop spear, deadfall, explosive, gun trap, explosive projectile, bomb, grenade, baited hook, net, snare, or any other trap, an automatic weapon, or a weapon of a calibre used by the Pakistan Army or Police Force or by means of a projectile containing any drug or chemical substance, likely to anaesthetise, paralyse, stupefy or render incapable an animal whether partly or totally.”
But Section 63 allows “Hunting in defence” and defines that: “(1) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, it shall not be an offence if (a) any person kills any wild animal by any means in the immediate defence of his own life or that of the life of any other person; and (b) the owner of livestock or his employee kills any wild animal, doing material damage to his livestock, by means not prohibited under this Act, within a reasonable distance where that livestock is grazing or where it is.”
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife (Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management) Act, 1975, also used to provide cover for “the owner of standing crops or his employee [who] kills any wild animal which is doing material damage to those crops by any means within the bounds of those crops.” But similar clauses are not included in the 2015 Act.
The farmers, frustrated with the monkeys, believe that they do not have enough cover in the face of the monkeys. During multiple conversations, they lament the fact that they cannot use an electric fence or more extreme measures against the monkeys.

Those working for increased protections towards the monkey population point out that the monkeys are coming to the farms, at least in part, due to the construction of roads and arrival of tourists in the forests. The antagonism the farmers feel towards the monkeys who are costing them their livelihoods is understandable. But peaceful coexistence is also possible.


According to the National Geographic’s Rhesus Macaque factsheet, these “intelligent animals can adapt to many habitats, and some can even become accustomed to living in human communities.”

In the Galiyat, experts suggest that rules regarding feeding and interacting with the monkey population must be strictly enforced. This is the norm in national parks and other areas with animal populations around the world.
The animals should also be better provided for in the forest area and their natural habitats must be protected, so they do not feel the need to venture out. The population of the monkeys must also be studied, so policymakers and researchers can work with the ground realities in mind.

Informed policymaking and enforcement will see behavioural change in both the tourists and the monkeys.
Even before a man was sent to space, Albert II, a male rhesus monkey became the first mammal to travel to space in 1949. So the primates’ ability to adapt has been long established.

Surely, with the right kind of planning and attention, and protection of their habitats, the monkeys could adapt to the changing dynamics. And, sooner or later, the tourists could also learn to mend their ways.

The writer is a journalist based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He tweets @MSadqat



Jun 2, 2019
Frankly i find those monkeys a nuisance. It is also due to our dumb tourists feeding them all the time, it destroyed their ecosystem and they no longer search food in deep jungle but stay closer to human population. Their population have grown alot and becoming unfeasible.

Sainthood 101

Jul 24, 2021
United States
Frankly i find those monkeys a nuisance. It is also due to our dumb tourists feeding them all the time, it destroyed their ecosystem and they no longer search food in deep jungle but stay closer to human population. Their population have grown alot and becoming unfeasible.
shoot and feed em to local zoos or make it animal feel


Mar 28, 2009
United States
United States
I thought this was a satire thread on the supporters of ethnofascist dynastic political parties like PPP & PML(N)…it really is about monkeys.. my mistake

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