The Year of the Monkey hasn't even started and already the hairy creatures are already taking liberties. In one of their biggest shows of force to date, a band of more than 30 marauding macaques descended on the quiet back streets of Sha Tin yesterday, loitering near a school. While residents are accustomed to seeing monkeys in the area, which is situated below Amah Rock, the size of this troop was such that they called the police. Constable Wong Siu-pong, from the Tin Sum police station, said monkey sightings had increased in recent months. 'Since autumn the monkeys are always wandering the hillside ... maybe there is a shortage of food.' He said the station was averaging three to four reports a month of monkey-related incidents, such as people having food or personal effects stolen. It was not unusual for locals to feed the monkeys, despite advice to the contrary. 'This was the first time there have been so many,' Constable Wong said. 'This time it was very terrible, it was like an army.' However, the police do not have jurisdiction over Hong Kong's monkey population - that distinction falls to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), who quickly dispatched a team to the area. The troop of macaques dispersed when confronted by the three net-wielding AFCD officers, although whether they make further forays into the area remains to be seen. Hong Kong's monkey population has been growing steadily at about 6 per cent in recent years, and the AFCD has been trying to control their numbers with a contraceptive programme. While this has failed to make much difference so far, the executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Pauline Taylor, endorsed the project. 'It's in its early days,' she said. 'There's a problem out there and [the department] is working on a humane solution to it.'