Progress Continues to Take a Toll on the Endangered Lion-Tailed Macaques of India
Sad Loss of Habitat
To think that most of us will live our entire lives and never get the chance to see a handsome lion-tailed macaque in the wild is a heartbreaking, gloomy thought. This fascinating, endangered animal is endemic to the evergreen forests of the Western Ghats mountains of India, where only about 1% of their original habitat remains. The lush forest in which this species thrived has fallen victim to the progress of man (deforestation for timber, along with agricultural and other development). As of 2014, it was believed that about 3,500 lion-tailed macaques were surviving in 49 sub-populations across eight locations in India. The best that most of us will have is a viewing in a zoo somewhere in the world.
Because they are forced to persist in isolated areas of their remaining habitat, there are cases of inbreeding depression, a phenomenon that lowers a population's ability to survive and reproduce, further threatening the survival status of this beautiful creature.
The lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus) is one of the smallest and most endangered species of macaques in the world and their population is expected to decline further over the next few decades.
Lion-tailed macaques are often mistaken by local hunters to be Nilgiri langurs (Semnopithecus johnii), which means an additional threat to these already-endangered animals. The two animals are similar in appearance, especially at a distance, and the hunters believe that the meat of the langur has medicinal properties. The macaques are also persecuted as crop pests by local farmers.
The male and female lion-tailed macaques are very similar in appearance, although the males are slightly larger. Both have shiny black coats of fur and an impressive mane of grey hair framing the face. The male macaque also has very prominent, long and sharp canine teeth that they are known to display to other males that might be encroaching on their territory, which they are willing to defend by any and all means. Their common name refers to their long, slender tail, which is bare except for the tuft of black hair gathered at the end of the tail, giving them a very lion-like appearance. The tufts of the males are more defined than those of the females.
The lion-tailed macaque is quadrupedal, which refers to their ability to walk on all four limbs. Their opposable digits on their limbs are beneficial when it comes to many of their activities, such as climbing, feeding or grooming. They use their long tail to provide balance within the tall trees.
The males can weigh up to just over 30 pounds but the females are often as small as 7-10 pounds. Their lifespan living in the wild can be up to 20 years, although considerably longer in captivity.
Males Often Display Their Prominent Canines
All of the outstanding photos of the lion-tailed macaques featured in this article were taken by our friend, Pradeep Vignesh of India, and we appreciate him graciously allowing us to share them with our readers.
Lion-Tailed Macaques Forage for Food
Lion-tailed macaques have areas in their cheeks (pouches) that open next to the lower teeth and extend down the side of the neck. In additional to being omnivorous, they often eat insects, lizards, tree frogs, and small mammals. They are able to store a large amount of food in their expandable cheek pouch, which when fully extended, has the same capacity as their stomachs. They usually obtain the water they need by licking the dew off leaves in the forest.
A Walk Through the Forest
The lion-tailed macaque of India is an Old World monkey that is primarily arboreal, living and spending most of their time in the upper canopy of the tropical and monsoon forests of the mountainous area in which their numbers are dwindling. The only times they are seen on the ground are times of play or foraging. At night, they huddle together in the trees. Their groups usually consist of one male, several females and their offspring, although there are often two or three males included in a group.
Unlike many other animals, lion-tailed macaques do not have a specific breeding season. When a female is ready to mate in her estrous cycle, she will display small swellings under her tail. The male examines the female and understands that it is time to breed.
After a gestation period of approximately six months, the female will give birth to a single offspring, and the female parent will remain in the group, living within the hierarchy that already exists. The males, however, will tend to leave their birth site upon reaching maturity and live in "bachelor" groups.
The young macaques are born with lighter faces and their manes won't grow in until they are about two months old.
- Gupta, Trisha (2014), These Intense Photos of Lion-Tailed Macaques Will Turn You Into a Conservationist, Smithsonian Magazine, December 2014
- https://www.arkive.org/lion-tailed-macaque/macaca-silenus/ (Retrieved from website 09/09/2018)
- https://www.neprimateconservancy.org/lion-tailed-macaque.html (Retrieved from website 09/16/2018)
- https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Macaca_silenus/ (Retrieved from website 09/15/2018)
© 2018 Mike and Dorothy McKenney