Along with 100,000 human personnel, India has hired 38 langur monkeys to act as security at the New Delhi-hosted Commonwealth Games, a quadrennial sporting event that brings together athletes from 54 countries once embraced by the British Empire. The langur monkeys will guard the headquarters of the games' organizing committee and major venues against attacks by other animals, just one of the potential (and existing) problems plaguing the New Delhi event which began today. Here's a brief instant guide:
Why are monkey guards necessary?
Primarily to defend Games athletes and visitors from other monkeys. A simian attack may sound cartoonish, but it's no laughing matter — such incidents are a common occurrence in India and can be fatal. The deputy mayor of New Delhi, for example, died after falling from his balcony during an attack by wild monkeys in 2007.
Is this a particular problem in New Delhi?
Smaller simians have a "notorious history for creating havoc" in the city, says Claire McCormack at Time. Misbehaving monkeys have previously invaded the city's public transport system and its parliament buildings and, in recent weeks, have been "creating a nuisance around the [games'] venues by stealing food."
Why are langur monkeys particularly well-suited to the task?
They are the "jackbooted stormtroopers of the monkey world," says Mike Moffitt at The San Francisco Chronicle. They're "loud and fierce... known for their intelligence," and are "often used in India to keep other monkeys in check in public places." (Watch an ITN video of the monkeys in action)
Are monkeys the only animal threatening the Games?
No. The langur monkeys will also protect venues from wild dogs and snakes. A deadly snake has already been found in a South African athlete's room, forcing games organizers to call in snake charmers to assist the monkeys with their task.
What other problems have the Commonwealth Games encountered?
The budget has ballooned from an estimated $142 million to $2.5 billion; several athletes pulled out ahead of the Games due to substandard accommodation and reports of a dengue fever outbreak; and a footbridge built outside the main stadium collapsed last month, injuring 27 people. "These events are unfortunate because they play directly to all the most negative stereotypes about India," says Gideon Rachman at The Financial Times: "crappy infrastructure, dysfunctional government, dirty." After all these disasters, the Games had better be a success, or "Indian pride would take a very bad hit."