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Taj Mahal police brandish catapults to scare monkeys away
In this file photo taken on November 13, 2018 macaques monkeys gather near the Taj Mahal monument in Agra in India's Uttar Pradesh state. Indian authorities have deployed slingshot-armed police-guards to protect tourists from being attacked by hordes of marauding monkeys at the Taj Mahal, an official said January 25, 2019. Pawan Sharma / AFP.

NEW DELHI (AFP).- Police at the Taj Mahal are being given catapults to scare monkeys away from the UN heritage site after a spate of attacks on tourists, officials said Friday.

"We have taken this initiative after many tourists were attacked and injured by monkeys," Hemendra Singh, spokesperson for India's paramilitary police force CISF, told AFP.

Rhesus macaques monkeys in the grounds of the white marble global tourist hotspot in the northern city of Agra are renowned for stealing food and other items from visitors.

But in recent months several monkeys have attacked and injured several people, including two French tourists last year while they were taking selfies.

Another tourist was hurt after she tried to retrieve her purse from a monkey. A Colombian tourist had her purse snatched and returned only after monkeys had torn up her cash.

Authorities said there were also instances of monkeys causing damage to the historic mausoleum, built in the 17th century by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his favourite wife.

Singh said the guards will ensure no harm is caused to the primates at the site, which attracts thousands of visitors every day.

India has an estimated monkey population of 50 million and roughly 15,000 are believed to roam Agra, all of them macaques, a common species with reddish-pink faces.

In November, a 12-day-old baby boy died after a monkey broke into their home in Agra and snatched him from her mother's arms. The boy's body was found on a nearby rooftop.

A week later an elderly woman also died after being attacked by the monkeys.

Many monkeys in India, who are fed by Hindus who revere the monkey god Hanuman, are turning aggressive due to their shrinking natural habitat, scientists say.

Monkeys are not the only problem at the Taj Mahal. The building is also being discoloured and damaged by pollution and insect excrement.

© Agence France-Presse

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