Save Us – Cry of the Phayre’s Leaf Monkey
Often called Chashma bandar by locals, the endangered Phayre’s leaf monkey are often mistaken for the spectacled langurs of the Malay Peninsula. These old-world primates are known for their eating high fibre leaves with some fruits, seeds, flowers, shoots and the occasional invertebrate thrown in.
Phayre’s leaf monkey (Trachypithecus phayrei) is listed as Endangered (EN) species in the IUCN red list & also listed in appendix II of the Conservation on International Trade in Endangered species (CITES). The species is also dominated in wildlife protection law in many countries. The Indian sub-species (Trachypithecus phayrei phayrei) also in a schedule-I species under the wildlife protection act.
In India, they are mainly found in North-East states (Assam, Tripura) apart from Myanmar, Southern China, Vietnam, Thailand and eastern part of Bangladesh. In Tripura, they majorly found in the dense forest area under Shipahijala Wildlife Sanctuary, with green covering approx 18.53 sq. KM. The wildlife sanctuary is located 25 KM from state capital Agartala. It spreads over 23°39′52″N 91°18′42″E(1), altitude 50 m above sea level.
Of the most beautiful creatures of nature, the Phayre’s leaf monkey is one of the best. Phayre’s leaf monkey also known as Spectacled Monkey, is the state animal of Tripura. Their cuteness of eyes always attracts human eyes. Phayre’s leaf monkey is known for their beautiful white pattern seen around their eyes which gives them ‘Spectacled’ looks. This is also why they are often referred to as spectacled langurs. Similar white patches are also visible on upper and lower lips (mouth area). Mostly grey coloured body, straight black coloured hair found over their head or forehead.
Behaviour and lifestyle:
They are very shy by nature and flee when threatened. In case of any threat, they communicate locally with their group members. Phayre’s always want to leave in haze. They are strongly territorial against other groups of the same species, although sympatric groups of other species may share the same territory. Phayre’s monkeys are also fond of basking in the sun during winter to warm them. They mostly found in groups of 6-11 or more and groups are generally cohesive. Each group has in general adult male, female and juveniles. The mothers take cares of the babies and the juveniles while the males protect them from any danger. In the group they are very social. Weight of the Spectacled monkey depends on the age and gender and varies 2 to 7.5 kg.
We all know that monkeys are arboreal, as it is these creatures also love foraging and playing on the top of woods. They are active in daytime, set on the branches of the trees and spend their time on feeding the green leaves or fruits. An adult Spectacled monkey eats upto 2 kg per day. They survive on green leaves, ripe or partially ripe fruits. The Shipahijala Sanctuary is rich in natural vegetation. More than 450(2) species of plants found there. Green and semi green leaves are the primary source of foods for the forest habitats. They also eat bamboo shoots and green bamboo leaves. Although they feed primarily in trees, they occasionally come close to the ground when consuming bamboo shoots & soil, when leaves are scarce or when drinking water from creek. They rest in plants with extensive and moderate shade. They are active during daylight hours, making them diurnal.
During our visit to Shipahijala in Oct’2019, we located 3-4 groups in different areas of the Sanctuary. They were 4-6 and 6-10 members in each group.
Reasons for the vanishing of this species:
A survey carried out by Doki Adimallaiah (https://doi.org/10.1896/052.028.0101) from 2009-2010 recorded 95 nos of spectacled monkeys in the sanctuary area.
According to the local forest department and the sanctuary authority, the total number of Spectacled monkeys currently is less than 100 in Tripura. They can be found in zoological parks in less number across the country.
The Phayre’s leaf monkeys are threatened by different habitat disturbance and fragmentation, due to the rapid urbanization, illegal cutting of trees and bamboos, human encroachment and extending of railway lines etc. A state highway attached to the sanctuary area has impacts on their wildlife habitat.
Tripura is the bastion of this sub-species of phayre’s leaf monkey and nowadays they are literally suffering from their habitat loss. Sharing below some current threats that making the lives of this endangered species more vulnerable.
- Deforestation – Cutting down surrounding trees for the livelihood by the local villagers reducing the natural; habitats of the wilds
- Jhum cultivation – Cutting the green trees by villagers for cultivation reducing the green belt. Sometime the burning of pebbles from the field by locals creates panic on the wildlife habitats.
- Rubber and tea plantation – growing rubber and tea gardening just adjacent to the sanctuary area for economical reason is a great concern. This reduces the habitat area for the wild species.
- Human encroachment – due to growing population village peoples are coming closer to the forest area, either living or doing cultivation.
- Hunting and trapping – hunting & trapping is one of the remarkable threats for these monkeys. Lack of awareness among the locals is the main reason for trapping and hunting this endangered species.
Govt action on the issues:
Forest department and Govt authority has taken steps to protect this species. In 2014 Govt has cancelled fresh rubber plantation request. The forest department has planted habitat trees in the areas they found, preventing further forest encroachment for cultivation.
The result of the analysis shows, directly or indirectly, we humans are responsible for their reducing population and endangered scenario. If we say, how we can save them or growth their population, then we need to conserve them with passion. Growing awareness & communication with the local people is highly required to stop any kind of trapping and hunting. Forest department and local wildlife conservations group needs to teach the local villagers, people about the endangered species and what best they can do in the preservation act of this species. With appropriate management & proper conservation program this species is still capable of their rapid growth.
“From my childhood I am listening about the phayre’s leaf, that this species is the pride of our Tripura” – Prasanta Saha
“My quest in photography will not be completed without the beautiful species of my native place” – Anindita D Muhuri
Photo Credits: Prasanta Saha and Anindita Datta Muhuri