The Nilgiri langur - more commonly known as the Black Monkey - is one of the more interesting denizens of the south Indian jungles. Found exclusively in the Western Ghats, these langurs are common in many South Indian tea gardens which have access to tracts of jungle. They are normally found in troops of eight to ten individuals, with an alpha male as the leader, and they feed mainly on leaves and fruits. They are very shy animals and can easily be startled. Their loud calls resonate through the jungle when alarmed and they are called the sentinels of the South Indian Jungles.
The reason why this particular primate went rogue and started attacking people is unclear. The most common version of the story going around was as follows.There was a government firewood felling camp above Kundlay estate.One of the workers there got friendly with the monkey and used to feed it regularly. One day he had got drunk, and when the langur troubled him for food, he beat it with a stick in his drunken stupor.The workers maintained that from that day onwards it developed a hatred for humans, or that it went insane after the beating.
There were reports of sporadic attacks on workers, but no one was injured and no one took it seriously. Until one day, when Simon Vasnaik, a good friend of mine and the manager of the estate got attacked. On a cold wet monsoon day, Simon was coming downhill on a steep field road on his motorcycle, when he suddenly felt something large land behind him.
|Picture from the internet : 'Vanishing Troops of Nilgiri Langurs from the Western Ghats of India'|
On the following Wednesday, the club night at the Kundlay Club, we listened incredulously to Simon's tale.
After the attack on their manager, the entire estate became wary. All workers from the Theerthamallay and East divisions of Kundalay estate begun to move around in groups armed with sticks and pruning knives. Pluckers moved from field to field only in groups. Supervisors began to be extra watchful in the plucking fields, seeing to it that none of the women were left alone. Watchmen were posted at vantage points to warn the approach of the rogue.
The attempts by the Forest Department staff to trap the rogue by means of fruit proved futile. The suspicious primate never took the fruits - probably due to the earlier bad experience with the worker at the firewood camp.
Simon, while handing over the estate, categorically warned me not to monkey around with this particular langur and to be careful while in the fields.
There were some more aborted attacks by the rogue, during which it was driven away by blows from sticks. By this time it became more cunning and desperate. Finally, it made a bold attempt to bite the leaf transport porter who was traveling on the tractor trailer. Fortunately, this attack also ended in failure, as at the right time the tractor went over a stone and the porter managed to push rogue off the trailer and escape unhurt.
About this time Simon was going on annual leave and I, an Assistant manager on the nearby Yellapatty Estate, was deputed as acting manager for this period on Kundlay. Simon, while handing over the estate, categorically warned me not to monkey around with this particular langur and to be careful while in the fields.
I for one had no intention of getting monkey bites and took his advice seriously. I always took one of the estate watchmen armed with a stick and pruning knife on the motorcycle when I went to the fields. Fortunately, during the three weeks I was acting in Kundlay, there were no attacks and I breathed a sigh of relief as I handed over to Simon.
The rogue finally met with an ignominious end. One day it jumped on a tractor and attempted to attack the driver. In doing so,it tried to hold on to the silencer and the silencer being blisteringly hot, it couldn’t hold on; it fell down and got run over by the trailer.
Do you have a chai story of your own to share? Send it to me here, please : firstname.lastname@example.org. My name is Gowri Mohanakrishnan and I'm a tea planter's wife. Stories from the tea gardens are one of a kind! A chai story is always told with great seriousness - no matter how funny - always true (always), maybe a tall tale, long, or short, impossible, scary, funny or exciting - but never dull. Our wonderful storytellers are all from the world of tea!
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"A second generation planter. Born and grew up in the planting districts of Southern India. Started my career in the High Ranges and Annamallais Planting Districts for twelve years. Had a stint in Africa for two years. Since 2009 been planting in the Nilgiris.
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