Islamabad, Dec 17: India and Pakistan could be in for monkey diplomacy after an unsuspecting primate strayed across the border into Pakistan to be snapped up by soldiers and packed off to a British-era zoo.
The monkey, who has not been given a name by his Pakistani handlers, was apparently found ambling around the desert region of Rahim Yar Khan on November 19.
Paramilitary troops manning a border post spotted the animal and sent him to Bahawalpur zoo in Pakistan's Punjab province. The case may be open and shut for the zoo, but his status is attracting a flurry of media attention.
“We were given him by the Rangers. They found him strolling near their post,” the zoo's curator Irfan Farooqi told AFP by telephone.
He added: “We don't suspect the monkey has been deliberately sent to Pakistan. I don't think it is a trained spy. It is a common monkey.”
The monkey is now locked up, joining half a dozen others, including another monkey that apparently strayed across the border from India a few months ago.
“India has a huge population of monkeys and often when they are hungry they head towards Pakistan,” Farooqi said.
The zoo was established in 1942 during British colonial rule before the sub-continent was divided between India and Pakistan upon independence in 1947.
An animal rights group in India has reportedly written to Pakistan's ambassador to New Delhi asking that the monkey be released back into the wild.
But Farooqi said the zoo had received no request.
The zoo official said there was no question of just releasing him because “monkeys are usually naughty and they can harm the civilian population”.
“We got (another) one (from India) a few months ago and no one asked for its repatriation. We can release them only if we get orders from our bosses.”
Asghar Gilani, a Pakistani wildlife department official, said the monkey's fate was “just a media attraction”.
“Such incidents have happened in the past also but no demand for their return had been made.”