Exotic wildlife plays supporting role at Delhi Games

MONKEYS at the cycling, dogs at the athletics, bugs at the tennis and birds of prey at the hockey.

The Commonwealth Games might sometimes be short of spectators, but never of wildlife.

Cyclists returned from their road race around the centre of New Delhi on Sunday with stories of meeting the capital’s rampaging simian residents.

“I got very close one time – I’ve never raced with monkeys before,” said Australia’s Allan Davis after collecting his gold medal.

“Apart from the wild monkeys and dogs, there was nothing too challenging,” joked Rochelle Gilmore, also Australian, winner of the women’s road race.

“We were told there would be no wild animals, but there were.”

A stray dog evaded security inside the main athletics stadium on Saturday, darting over the running track and onto the field before a women’s 400m hurdles heat — much to the officials’ distress and the crowd’s delight.

Bright floodlights at many venues have attracted hordes of large and exotic grasshoppers, moths and crickets out of the Indian night sky.

“The bugs make it really tough, but when you play the points you don’t notice them. When you’re not playing, they’re a nuisance,” said mixed double gold medallist Colin Fleming from Scotland.

His compatriot Jamie Murray told the BBC that “they literally fall out the sky and litter the courts and you’re constantly kicking them off the court or swatting them away with your racket.”

On Monday morning, hundreds of black kites circled low over the hockey stadium in the ceremonial centre of the city built by British colonial rulers at the start of the last century.

While modern Delhi is a congested and polluted city of 18 million people, it remains surprisingly green in many areas with wide tree-lined avenues, protected forest areas and large parks.

Troops of monkeys often charge through the streets, stealing fruit from food stalls and ripping up wiring.

Residents give them free rein because in Hindu mythology the popular monkey-god Hanuman is commander of the monkey army — and because the primates can be overtly aggressive.

In 2007, the deputy mayor of New Delhi fell to his death after being attacked by a group as he read a newspaper on the terrace of his home.

Delhi authorities have deployed a contingent of trained langurs — a larger type of monkey — at Games venues to help chase away smaller species.

The langurs are controlled on leashes by handlers, who release them if other monkeys come into sight.

Completing the menagerie have been five cobra snakes caught at the athletes’ village, and sacred cows that wander down lanes reserved for Games’ transport. — AFP

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