On the tail of primates

Kalyan Varma | Updated on September 29, 2014

An endangered species, the lion-tailed macaque is fast disappearing from the Western Ghats

I have been photographing tropical rainforests around the world for a decade now, and one of my toughest shoots till date was the one where I was trying to capture a lion-tailed macaque on camera for the very first time. We were at Kudremukh in Karnataka, and hours of waiting had yielded little but a fleeting glimpse of a single macaque on top of the forest canopy. A few months later, however — this time in the Anamalai hills — I found a community of macaques so friendly that 20 minutes after we met, one of them was sitting on my camera.

A symbol of the endemic diversity of the Western Ghats in south-west India, these macaques are now endangered. Habitat specialisation and a slow reproduction rate are responsible for their plight, as is the destruction and fragmentation of such forests. The macaques, unlike monkeys that troll the cities, have a memory of their habitat and even know which tree bears fruit at what time of the year.

But despite their intelligence and keen survival instincts, less than 4,000 of them walk the planet today, making them one of the most endangered primates in the world. Rapid development in the region is only putting the macaques at further risk.

( Kalyan Varma is a Bangalore-based naturalist and wildlife photographer)

Published on September 26, 2014

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