By Dr. Susan Sharma
The lion - tailed macaque is the ancestor of all Asian macaques. Endemic to the Western Ghats of India, it occurs in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The population is severely fragmented (IUCN 2002) and the current population is estimated
at around 4000( ENVIS study).
Threats and Reasons for Decline:
The major reason for its decline appears to have been habitat loss due to the spread of agriculture and teak, coffee, tea and other plantations. Formerly it was extensively captured for the pet trade, zoos and research, as well as for use
in Oriental medicine.
As well as having a tail like a lion's, this species also has a mane. They are also known as wanderoos. There is no sub species of this primate.
The lion-tailed macaque is omnivorous. It is mainly arboreal, although it does occasionally descend to the ground.
Lion-tailed macaques are active during the day. They spend the majority of their time in the trees, and are cautious when on the ground. Groups of lion-tailed macaques range from 4 - 34 individuals. They usually contain about 10 - 20 individuals, including
1 - 3 adult males. The species has been studied in detail for over a decade in the Anamalai Hills. Compared to most other macaques, the lion tailed has a very low birth rate. Hence its capacity to recover from drastic population reductions is low.
Hunting and habitat destruction are major problems in conserving this species. The population in Kodagu forests has reduced drastically due to poaching. Hunting has been reported in Nilambur, Cardamom Hills and Silent Valley. Given the low
birth rate and high age at first birth, the lion tailed macaque does not have the ability to recover from even low levels of hunting.
(Photograph of lion tailed macaque by Ajith Kumar, ENVIS)