Conservationists call for study after rare spotting of lion-tailed macaques in Nadugani

August 24, 2023 07:29 pm | Updated August 25, 2023 08:12 pm IST

A lion-tailed macaque photographed in the forests of Nadugani, along the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border recently.

A lion-tailed macaque photographed in the forests of Nadugani, along the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border recently. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Over the last few years, a ‘phantom’ has been sporadically spotted by conservationists in the forests of Nadugani, shared by the Nilgiris district in Tamil Nadu and Nilambur in Kerala.

“When I saw it, I was shocked, as there had been no records of the animal in the Nilgiris till date,” said Azad Kamil, founder of the Ongil Nature Trust. The animal, Mr. Kamil is referring to, is the endangered Lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus), which has never been recorded in the district. Mr. Kamil said he had spotted a single animal among the forest canopy in 2021, and such was his disbelief that he had spoken to other researchers trying to ascertain if there was a population that he was unaware of.

In the 1880’s manual of the Nilgiris district, the macaque, then called ‘The Lion Monkey’ is described as “shy”, inhabiting “dense and remote forests on the Malabar side of the hills.”

“The hair on its body is black, and there is a tuft at the tip of its tail; but the most remarkable feature in its appearance is the reddish white ring of hair surrounding the face, which gives it a very antiquated and venerable expression,” the British explorers had written.

Over the years, sightings of the macaques in Nadugani have been on the rise, said B. Ramakrishnan, Head of the Department of Wildlife Biology at the Government Arts College in Udhagamandalam. Mr. Ramakrishnan believes the sightings are of a single troop of macaques, moving from Silent Valley National Park through Nilambur and into Nadugani. “These sporadic sightings indicate they may be visiting the area seasonally in search of food,” said Mr. Ramakrishnan, who is putting together a team to conduct a study on the population in Nadugani.

“We are going to approach the Forest Department soon and seek permission to conduct the study,” he told The Hindu.

P.S.Easa, the former director (in-charge) of the Kerala Forest Research Institute and Chairman of the Care Earth Trust in Chennai, said the Nadugani population of macaques has been reported multiple times over the last decade and was “nothing new.”

“The animals’ preference for the tall canopies of the evergreen forests of the Western Ghats could be leading to populations becoming isolated,” said Mr. Easa. Accoridng to him, it was important to study whether the macaques in Nadugani were making their way from Silent Valley National Park or have become totally cut-off from other populations due to habitat loss. “There needs to be studies to understand if the population is moving into the area from Silent Valley and New Amarambalam, or if the population is breeding and their mortality rates if they are isolated,” he said.

Sasindra Babu, an environmentalist from Palakkad, Kerala, said the sighting of the Lion-tailed macaques in Nadugani and the Nilgiris could indicate their habitat in Nilambur is being affected, possibly by habitat loss. “What we are seeing in Nadugani are scattered populations from the buffer zone of the Silent Valley National Park. In Nilambur, much of the old-growth evergreen forests are being lost due to developmental activities, which could be pushing some members of the species into surrounding areas in search of food,” said Mr. Babu. Territorial forest divisions in-charge of monitoring wilderness areas outside protected areas need to conduct census and surveys of the species in different habitats where there are scattered populations of Lion-tailed macaques, he added.

“In many of these areas, eco-tourism is severely affecting populations due to habitat loss, and only if these populations are studied can management plans be formulated,” said Mr. Babu.

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