From Yahoo! News Asia

Monkeys spread reign of
terror in Abkhazia

Monday March 22

SOUKHOUMI, Georgia, March 22 (AFP) - When Antonina Sergeyeva, 69, went to her henhouse recently to fetch some eggs, the strange noises inside told her immediately that something was wrong.

"When I looked inside I saw to my horror that monkeys were chasing the hens, upsetting everything as they went."

Sergeyeva lost three hens that day, half her stock, a disaster for someone relying on the sale of eggs to eke out her meagre pension.

For the residents of Soukhoumi, capital of Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia on the Black Sea, such an incident was nothing unusual. Monkeys have been their unwelcome neighbours ever since the civil war of 1992-93.

Until then Soukhoumi had housed the largest experimental breeding centre in the former Soviet Union, containing more than 7,000 animals. But during the fighting artillery fire hit the enclosures, enabling the inmates to escape.

"After the war only 270 primates remained," said the centre's director, Sergei Ardzimba. "The rest escaped, were killed or simply stolen. The soldiers used to shoot at the monkeys to amuse themselves."

Many of the animals were used for unique scientific experiments, Ardzimba said, while Alik Alia, a keeper at the centre at the beginning of the war, recalled that some cages bore the notice "Beware AIDS."

Experts do not rule out many of the monkeys carrying viruses dangerous to humans, but no one knows how many are still at large in Abkhazia. But everyone says they are bold and aggressive, driven by hunger and an unfamiliar habitat.

Mirab, 20, described how he was celebrating a birthday with friends in woods about 15 kilometres (10 miles) from the city.

"One of the girls had gone to look for fireword, when we heard her screaming and ran to her aid. We found her surrounded by about a dozen monkeys which were trying to snatch a bowl filled with wood strawberries from her."

"When we got there they left, but without hurrying and reluctantly, without showing the slightest fear," he added.

But it's an ill wind... The Abkhazians, who are usually badly paid, have learned that the monkeys are worth money, capturing and selling them to Turkish dealers.

"I can seel a monkey for around 20 dollars, which is enough to meet my needs for at least a month," said Acik, 35. "My wife doesn't work and I must feed my five-year-old son.

"In Soviet times it was already difficult to find a good job here, and since the war it has become impossible, but if I can catch five monkeys a year we are saved.

"The Turks don't haggle because they know that can sell the monkeys for at least 100 dollars apiece at home. And the people here thank me for it, because these creatures have brought us nothing but trouble."

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