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Photo essay: Lion-tailed macaques of India's Western Ghats rainforest
By Kalyan Varma, special to
December 19, 2011

Rainforest of India's Western Ghats.
Rainforest of India's Western Ghats. All photos by Kalyan Varma.

The rainforests of Western Ghats are home to some of the most wonderful creatures which are found only in these forests and no where else on the earth

The Lion-tailed Macaque Macaca silenus is the symbol of this endemic diversity of this biodiversity hotspot. Less than 2500 of these survive today making it one of the most endangered primates in the world

Since these primates have evolved in the rainforests, they have very simple stomachs which can easily digest fruits, seeds and insects. This adaptation has helped them be a habitat specialist of the tropical rainforest, where these are available throughout the year

The other endemic primate is the Nilgiri Langur which is a purely leaf-eating primate. They do not compete with each other directly

Good fruiting trees are of great demand and sometimes rival groups fight with one another to have rights over these trees. Its usually the alpha male of the group that engages in these fights, though other monkeys do join at times

Males have canines, though mostly just to show them off to rival males. These large canines come in use when the macaques feast on fruits like jackfruits and Cullenia

Being more of a meat-eating than other macaques of the world, the Lion-tailed Macaque sometimes hunt and feed on young ones of giant and flying squirrels

Cullenia is one of the keystone species of the Western Ghats. Their flowers and fruits serve as food for many of the rainforest species including the Lion-tailed Macaque

Being macaques, they tend to explore a lot and sometimes discover easy ways of finding food.

A lot of roads go through these forests breaking them into isolated fragments. These primates which very rarely step on the ground in undisturbed forests, are now forced to come down to cross these broken canopies. About 25% of the Lion-tailed Macaques are found in small isolated forest fragments

This often leads to tragic consequences further affecting populations of this endangered species

The reproduction cycles of these macaques are very slow. A female gives birth only once in three years and only the dominant female gives birth. Because of low birth rate and high age at first birth, it gives very little chance for these populations to bounce back.

A very human-like fetus of a Lion-tailed Macaque.

In 2008, a healthy population of 32 groups of these macaques were found in central Karnataka giving hope to the future of these Knights of the Western Ghats.

Kalyan Varma is a wildlife photographer based out of Bangalore, India. Varma's web site is

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