The veterinary team has begun investigating the case with the available samples and it is a laborious process.

Mysterious disease leaves 60 monkeys dead in six months at sacred grove in Kerala
news Animal's Health Tuesday, January 02, 2018 - 15:15

Nearly 60 monkeys whose habitat is a sacred grove with 27 acres of sprawling land at Vallikkatkavu in Kozhikode district, have mysteriously died in the past six months due to a disease, which is yet to be identified by veterinarians.

The face and body of the monkeys would first begin to decay, as if they were burnt, as a symptom of the disease and the death would happen in a month. The sacred grove, which is centuries old, has been a habitat for many species and as many as 100 monkeys also used to live there.

“But in the past six months as many as 60 monkeys have died. Now, there are less than 40 monkeys in the sacred grove. It was six months ago that the disease first began to appear and we have been attempting to bring this to the notice of the Forest Department. But it was only recently that the department took up the issue after the intervention of MK Raghavan (MP) and after a few media reports. A week ago, we were able to catch a monkey affected with the disease. The Forest Department took the monkey from here to study about the disease,” BJP Kozhikode district secretary CP Satheesh told TNM.

Satheesh is also a local resident of Vallikkattukav. He said that the sacred grove is hundreds of years old. The grove and the temple attached to it are under Malabar Devaswom Board. The monkeys are fed by the devotees.

“There are dead bodies of the monkeys inside the grove. Monkeys are the main attraction of the sacred grove as they are the only animals that come out of the dense trees and become visible to devotees,” Satheesh said.

He also shared the concerns of the local people who fear that the disease may be contagious and could spread to humans.

The disease was first found in a monkey in June last year, said temple priest Vasudevan Namboothiri. “The portions of its face, where there was no hair, were falling apart as if they were burnt. Then itself, we had informed the forest department, but there was no response. In December last year, after the death toll rose, they took it seriously,” he said.

A cage was kept at a plot near the sacred grove for catching the monkeys after farmers near it complained of the monkeys ruining their farm produce. “A few monkeys were caught in the cage. But after we found the monkeys dying due to the rare disease, the cage was shifted to another area. A monkey with the disease was then caught in that cage and handed over to the Forest Department. We have also found 10 carcasses of monkeys,” the priest said.

Forest veterinary officer Arun Zachariah said that in his experience and knowledge, no such disease has been found in any animal and there is nothing similar in any references. “In this instance, we have only got one sick animal with which it is difficult to make any meaningful findings. We need to collect samples of more sick monkeys or carcasses and work on them. If we get more, we can reach a conclusion in may be 10 days.”

He added that the veterinary team has begun investigating the case with the available samples and it is a laborious process. Further, they have conducted a polymerase chain reaction which is a technique used to amplify a single copy of a segment of DNA to produce multiple copies.