Monkeys of Mumbai
Despite Mumbai’s famous human population, the density of which feels like it’s apt to crush you to dust at any point during your stay, there are parts of the mega-metropolis where wildlife does all right. This seems to be particularly true of wildlife that can kill you. Sanjay Gandhi National Park has cobras, crocodiles, and several pit vipers. It also has, as I mentioned in a previous post, a unnervingly high concentration of leopards which have in the past killed and eaten people. This is not the sort of urban wildlife I am used to dealing with, where the worst thing I can come across is a Black Bear, and not even in my part of the state with anything approaching regularity. As exciting as it is to bird in a place with large carnivores (and I do intend to use exiting with both positive and negative connotations), it is not something I need to experience regularly. I will say, however, that my birding in Mumbai was made somewhat more enjoyable by the presence of monkeys, which I recommend highly.
Sanjay Gandhi has several species of monkeys running about, some more tolerant of people than others apparently. Walking back to the entrance I found myself in the middle of a troop of Rhesus Macaques walking leisurely along the river. I was taken aback, but this must have been a pretty common occurrence as none of the other, apparently local, walkers seemed to give a second look. The big male of the group sat along a rock wall, posing in that very simian way that makes them look like they’re so wise and content when really they’re just waiting for someone to drop some food. not a single person stopped to look, likely as this was hardly a unique thing to people in Mumbai, but I stopped to photograph and all at once felt entirely foreign. Not only because I was the only white guy in the park (and the only white guy I had seen since I left the airport), but I was the only one with a few thousand dollars worth of optical equipment trained at the fairly normal sight of a monkey sitting on a wall.
I’ll say this about India. I never once felt like I was in any sort of danger. But as someone who likes to blend into the crowd wherever I go, this was a jarring experience. So when I put my camera up to my eye such that I couldn’t see anything except what was through the viewfinder, I felt incredibly exposed and claustrophobic. Indians are generally friendly, but they are very curious and don’t care much for the personal space like we may take for granted in America or Europe. I had already seen one to many pointed fingers and poorly muffled giggles from passer-by. I imagine this is what anyone of color feels like when birding in the US, but with the added complication of not understanding a single work anyone was saying.
I realize that this was mostly me dealing with my own stuff, but it’s remains one of the oddest experiences I’ve ever had in the field.
In any case, a small tribe of what I later realized were Bonnet Macaques (note the crown of dark hair on their heads and little different face) began getting into it on the other side of the pathway. I turned and fired off a few shots of this monkey fight.
People began to gather, I walked on. My clock was urging me onward anyway and I had a plane to catch back home. Where there are no monkeys.