NEW DELHI, India — Madi is a bully. He has three-inch canines that glisten when he snarls.
And that’s a good thing, says his owner, Niraj.
Madi is a langur — a large, grey monkey with a black face and ears, endemic to South Asia. Big and menacing, he’s able to scare off this city’s 30,000 smaller, red-faced rhesus monkeys, to protect the local human population from their naughty and dangerous antics.
Niraj earns his living hauling Madi around India’s capital on his bicycle to scare away monkeys that hang around parks, rob offices (really) and terrorize people.
To combat them, the langur men used to be a common sight around Delhi’s political and diplomatic areas, especially during visits by high-ranking foreign officials.
The problem is, it’s illegal to keep langurs. They are a protected species, and in November 2012, the environment ministry cracked down. The ministry told government departments and agencies that langurs are covered by India’s Wildlife Protection Act, and that people who own, trade or hire out langurs face up to three years in jail.
The New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) duly canceled its contracts with around 30 langur men, who were paid about 10,000 rupees (about $165) a month to patrol the city.
Yet Niraj and the other langur men haven’t gone away. They still operate, in secret, relying on a black market wildlife trade.
Business is booming.
Many people feed monkeys on Tuesday and Saturdays — days associated with the monkey-faced Hindu god Hanuman. This practice means that people carrying food at other times risk being bitten. Around 90 percent of the monkeys carry tuberculosis.
Children are often more vulnerable to attack, and people have even died as a result. In 2007, New Delhi’s deputy mayor, Surinder Singh Bajwa, perishedafter being attacked by monkeys at his home. He fell from his terrace, causing a serious head injury.
Since the ban on langurs, government officials have complained that monkeys have wrought havoc by getting into their offices.
So Delhi continues to rely, unofficially, on its langur patrols.
When I met Niraj, he was cycling to a school in Chanakyapuri — the heart of Delhi’s diplomatic district — with his assistant Suraj and his langur, Madi, who was perched on the back of the bike, a rope around his neck.
“They slap the red-face monkeys and scare them away,” Niraj said. “We work for politicians, at their bungalows, everyone. But if you need one on private property, you can.”