Flora and Fauna

LION TAILED MACAQUES FOUND BEGGING FOR FOOD IN AGUMBE GHATS

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Meera Bhardwaj

The Canopy Kings of the tropical rainforests of Western Ghats, the Lion Tailed Macaques (LTM) have turned to begging for food at Agumbe ghats in Karnataka. In the last few years, with economy driven development, the old-world monkeys have not only lost their canopies but also their food with large scale felling of fruit trees in this region.

Even as one drives to Agumbe ghats on way from Tirthahalli, after the first check post, one sees both Bonnet Macaques as also LTMs hanging out in large numbers on the road side. One can even see them lounging near the check post– sitting and gouging on biscuits and popcorns. As we traverse on to the Sunset Point, the arboreal and endangered mammals can be seen asking for food as their behavioural patterns and feeding instincts seem to have changed for the worse.

Wildlife conservationist Santosh Martin who was recently driving in the hairpin bend 7 at Agumbe saw a group of 15 LTMs begging for food. He adds, “This is pathetic and has never happened before in my 25 years of LTM sightings. They have been reduced to road side beggars by detrimental acts of human beings.”

SITUATION BAD

Wildlife photographer Kartik Bhat who has been tracking the LTMs for years says, “I have been following them for a long time. The situation is bad…passing vehicles stop on the Ghat road to feed the LTMs. One curve below the Sunset Point – a group of LTMs will assemble and people stop their cars and tend to feed them. This has been happening for a long time now.”

The Lion Tailed Macaques feed on Jackfruits, says Dr H S Prayag, Wildlife Veterinary Expert and Secretary, Society of Wildlife Veterinarians, South Chapter. “It is their natural diet. As feeding naturally on jackfruits, it gives them more sugar, energy and fibre. Any food made out of fine wheat flour or fried food is not good for its dietary constitution. Further, feeding by humans has led to LTMs attacking people and chasing them for food. Such habits should not be encouraged as it not only upsets their digestive tract but changes their behavioural pattern.”

FREQUENTLY SIGHTED

In fact, sightings of LTMs on the Agumbe Ghat road has increased in the last few years although they are shy and retiring animals. With both lion tailed and bonnet macaques frequenting the ghat road and the Sunset Point, tourists and other visitors are seen frequently feeding them bananas, biscuits, popcorns, chips, etc. The result being the LTMs are grabbing the easily available food as they have not only lost their habitat but also food. This is due to widening of roads, linear structures and hydroelectric projects in the Western Ghats. The ongoing survey in the Sharavathi River Valley, which is the home of LTMs, sounds the death knell for the survival of this species.

Confined to narrow strips of rainforests in the fragmented Western Ghats, the LTMs have been classified as endangered because of its highly selective feeding habits, limited range of occupancy, low population turnover and their small numbers (2500-3000) remaining in the wild. The distribution of the species is restricted to rain forests of Karnataka, Tamilnadu and Kerala, however, they are found in small isolated populations.

The magnificent LTM is named as such due to its lion-like, long, thin and tufted tail. This adorable primate is unfortunately among the most endangered of the macaques across the world. Living on tree canopies and feeding on a large variety of fruits, a large part of their time is devoted to exploration and feeding.

DEVELOPMENTAL ACTIVITIES

According to studies by primate experts M A Kumar, Sreedhar Vijayakrishnan and Mewa Singh, developmental activities have been one of the major drivers of conversion of natural forest areas into mosaics of forest fragments, agriculture, and plantations, threatening the existence of wildlife species in such altered landscapes.

They state, “We emphasize that while habitat generalists often adapt behaviourally and ecologically to modified landscapes, habitat specialists such as the LTMs could find survival harder, with increasing anthropogenic pressures and loss of their habitats. Unlike Bonnet macaque and Rhesus macaque, the LTMs are less adaptable and are vulnerable to extensive changes in their habitats that often threaten their very survival. The diversion of rainforests for coffee, rubber and tea plantations surrounding LTM habitats alters their ranging and availability of food resources while influencing their behavioural responses leading to negative interactions with people in some areas.”

(All images of LTMs by Kartik Bhat)