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Updated: February 6, 2012 19:11 IST

Nilgiri blues

KALA SAMBASIVAN
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The lion-tailed macaque takes a philosophical look at how one species can irritate another in the same family!

Dear Aristotle,

It seems human qualities of complaining and mud-slinging (or anything else) are being aped by us. Do we need to point a finger at each other in anger and intolerance?

My letter, of course, isn't a complaint; it is merely to let you know that some of us make life miserable for others.

The Nilgiris mountain range is part of the Western Ghats, which run-along India's west coast from Gujarat in the north to Kerala in the south. It lies on the western edge of Tamil Nadu, extending into neighbouring Kerala and Karnataka. The peaks of this range, some over 2000 m, appear misty blue which has earned them their name “Nilgiris” meaning “Blue Mountains”. The lush forests that cover their slopes are home to some of the rarest plants and animals; and that includes five unusual species of endangered primates. One species is the bane of my life.

Primates are pesky creatures even in the best of times. Here is a case of one species irritating another of his family. Bonnet macaques found only in southern India look cute though I doubt if farmers think so too after they raid fruit and vegetable crops. However, these little rogues never bother us, the lion-tailed macaques. Neither do grey langurs and slender loris. The ones who set our nerves on edge are the Nilgiri langurs.

Of course, we accommodate each other. Sometimes they take the top canopy and we the middle; sometimes it is reversed. They hang around us; waiting to grab cullenia fruit that we may accidentally drop when cracking open the nut. We do not mind for they cannot break open the nut. But life would have been perfect in this arcadia if these glossy black-furred, long-tailed menaces did not have a repertoire of sounds that shatter your ear-drums.

From the crack of dawn till dusk, the forest echoes with his numerous calls. He pants, grunts, growls or roars when threatened; he hoos, hohos and hahas when tearing after each other — perhaps it is his idea of fun. He squeals when thwarted and screams in frustration. He lets out a screech when confronted by a dominant individual. That is not all. He can chuckle, whistle and bark and make a sound like a hiccup. If all this weren't enough, he puts all these melodious notes into a song! There is one more thing he is good at. Perversely, he finds the driest, easily breakable small branches to do his jumping acts. What a racket he creates as he crashes into brittle branches and dry leaves!

Having said that, I would be sorry if he weren't around. Like us, the Nilgiri langurs are also an endangered species. They are poached upon for their black skin which is used for making drums, and for their organs and blood, which are used in some Ayurvedic preparations.

Come to think of it, I really like them, thunder and all!

Reply from Aristotle

This noisy fellow's scientific name is T. Johnii. Listen to this.

Johnii, Johnii!

Yes, Papa?

Eating sugar?

No, Papa!

Open your mouth!

Hohohoho, hahahaha, hohoohoo, hehehe . . .

Stop it! STOP IT, RIGHT NOW!

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