Their pelt, blood, flesh and organs are used to produce crude medicines

In spite of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the Nilgiri langurs (Trachypithecus johnii) continue to be hunted for the preparation of crude medicines. Prior to the Act coming into force, these primates were ruthlessly hunted to the brim of extinction.

According to a National Studbook on Nilgiri langurs published in May this year by the Wildlife Institute of India and the Central Zoo Authority, poaching continues to be one of the main threats to the wild population of Nilgiri langurs. The studbook says the primates were being hunted mainly for their pelt, blood, flesh and organs to produce crude medicines and even so-called aphrodisiacs.

Before the Act came into force, such medicines were freely available with traditional medicine practitioners in Kerala and the products were even advertised. ‘Karingkorangu Rasayanam' was one of the leading products at the time. After the advent of the Act, the Kerala Forest Department launched a campaign to save the Nilgiri langurs and this included a series of advertisements.

Though the campaign had produced desirable results, the Nilgiri langurs are still not free from poaching pressure; medicines brewed from the flesh, blood and organs of these primates are available illicitly and are said to be very costly. Habitat destruction, which includes construction of hydroelectric projects, is another threat to the primates, according to the studbook.

The glossy black Nilgiri langurs with a reddish-brown crown are colobines endemic to the southern part of the Western Ghats from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu through Kerala up to the Coorg Hills in Karnataka. The studbook, authored by Manjari Malviya, Anupam Srivastav, Parag Nigam and P.C. Tyagi, says the present Nilgiri langur population in the wild can touch 15,000. They are listed as vulnerable in the IUCN red list.

About 45 per cent of their diet comprises tender leaves of 115 species of flora, out of which 58 species are trees. They also feed on fruits, flowers, buds, seeds and bark. In fact, they forage upon the largest number of plant species among all primates in the Western Ghats. Hence, habitat destruction even on a small scale would hit them very hard.

According to the studbook, there are 30 Nilgiri langurs in captivity in the country. Out of these, 19 are at the Arignar Anna Zoological Park in Chennai, five at the Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens in Mysore, four at the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad, and two at the Thiruvananthapuram Zoo.