Nov 16 – Jan 17

Endangered Lion-tailed Macaque

The Lion-tailed Macaque has a mane of hair and a tail that makes it look like a lion. It is endangered as its forest habitat is being turned into farmland to sate the needs of ever expanding human civilization. The Lion-tailed Macaque lives in forested areas in the Western Ghats, a mountain range in southwest India.

The lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus), also known as the wanderoo, is an Old World monkey endemic to the Western Ghats of South India.

The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve is an International Biosphere Reserve in the Western Ghats and Nilgiri Hills ranges of South India. The Western Ghats, Nilgiri Sub-Cluster (6,000+ km²), conjoining the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, is a World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO in 2012. It includes the Mudumalai, Mukurthi, Sathyamangalam, Nagarhole, Wayanad, and Bandipur national parks encompassing an area of about 5,520 sq. km. It is located in the Western Ghats between 76°- 77°15’E and 11°15’ – 12°15’N. The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve encompasses parts of Tamilnadu, Kerala and Karnataka.

A fascinating ecosystem of the hill ranges of Nilgiris and its surrounding environments covering a tract of over 5000 square kilometers was constituted as Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in September 1986 under Man and Biosphere Programme. Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve is India’s first and foremost biosphere reserves with a heritage, rich in flora and fauna. Tribal groups like the Todas, Kotas, Irullas, Kurumbas, Paniyas, Adiyans, Edanadan Chettis, Cholanaickens, Allar, Malayan, etc., are native to the reserve.

The LTM, as they are popularly called by the wildlife enthusiast’s community, are specially found in the areas around Valparai, which has become a major habitat for these animals. The Western ghats are filled with jackfruit trees making for a huge part of the LTM’S menu. They also tend to feed on tree barks and other foliage,  smaller insects, frogs and lizards. Generally the sexes are similar in growth , a average of 20-30 inches in length.

The lion-tailed macaque is listed on the endangered species list as their habitats have been majorly taken over by the plantations in the western Ghats, Although they are not in the top 25 list at present.

Reproduction cycle or gestation is although the year and generally females are ready from 5 yrs of age, while the males are mostly ready around the 7th year to mate, this has kept their numbers from not becoming extinct, but the fear of dwindling numbers due to habits loss is a major concern. Along with that, poaching of  these monkeys for flesh and fur exists to a great extent.

Unlike other primates the LTM’s are territorial and live in groups and territorial fights are a common occurrence, they are very expressive like other primates and it is a joy to watch them playing, eating etc in the western forests. It is sheer pleasure to watch these intelligent creatures hide good amount of food in their cheek pouches and acting fishy once they hide. Groups are formed with a dominant male heading the group and the mother and offspring

under his care, Males when they are ready to mate split and create new groups and wander out.

Estimated at around 2500 to exist worldwide, with around 4% of that in captivity, they are a species to watch out for, Tropical zones in Western Ghats are where they are exclusively found in India, A lovely mammal, a great primate, always a pleasure to see them in happy groups.

Physical characteristics

The hair of the lion-tailed macaque is black. Its outstanding characteristic is the silver-white mane which surrounds the head from the cheeks down to its chin, which gives this monkey its German name Bartaffe – “beard ape”. The hairless face is black in colour. With a head-body length of 42 to 61 cm and a weight of 2 to 10 kg, it ranks among the smaller macaques. The tail is medium in length, about 25 cm, and has a black tuft at the end, similar to a lion’s tail. The male’s tail-tuft is more developed than that of the female.

Gestation is approximately six months. The young are nursed for one year. Sexual maturity is reached at four years for females, and six years for males. The life expectancy in the wild is approximately 20 years, while in captivity is up to 30 years.


The lion-tailed macaque is a diurnal rainforest dweller. It is a good climber and spends a majority of its life in the upper canopy of tropical moist evergreen forests. Unlike other macaques, it avoids humans. In group behavior, it is much like other macaques; it lives in hierarchical groups of usually 10 to 20 animals, which consist of few males and many females. It is a territorial animal, defending its area first with loud cries towards the invading troops. If this proves to be fruitless, it brawls aggressively.

Lion-tailed macaque behaviour is characterized by typical patterns such as arboreal living, selectively feeding on a large variety of fruit trees, large inter individual spaces while foraging, and time budgets with high proportion of time devoted to exploration and feeding. It primarily eats indigenous fruits, leaves, buds, insects and small vertebrates in virgin forest, but can adapt to rapid environmental change in areas of massive selective logging through behavioural modifications and broadening of food choices to include fruits, seeds, shoots, pith, flowers, cones, mesocarp, and other parts of many non indigenous and pioneer plants.In the forests of Kerala they were observed preying on nestling and eggs of pigeons.


A recent assessment for IUCN reports 3000-3500 of these animals live scattered over several areas in Kerala.The lion-tailed macaque ranks among the rarest and most threatened primates. Their range has become increasingly isolated and fragmented by the spread of agriculture and tea, coffee, teak and cinchona, construction of water reservoirs for irrigation and power generation, and human settlements to support such activities. They do not live, feed or  travel through plantations. Destruction of their habitat and their avoidance of human proximity have led to the drastic decrease of their population.

Scientific name: Macaca silenus

Length: 42 – 61 cm (Adult, Head and body)

Mass: 2 – 10 kg (Adult)
Lifespan: 20 years (In the wild)

Higher classification: Macaque
Gestation period: 183 days

From 1977 to 1980, public concern about the endangered status of lion-tailed macaque became the focal point of Save Silent Valley, India’s fiercest environmental debate of the decade. From 1993 to 1996, 14 troops were observed in Silent Valley National Park,Kerala, one of the most undisturbed viable habitats left for them.

A self-sustainable single population of 32 groups of lion-tailed macaques occurred in Sirsi-Honnavara, Karnataka, the northernmost population of the species. A local census concluded in 2007, conducted in the Theni District of Tamil Nadu, put their numbers at around 250, which was considered encouraging, because till then, no lion-tailed macaques had been reported in that specific area. The species is also prominently found in the Papanasam part of the Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve of  Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. Many zoos take part in breeding programs which help to secure the survival of this species. About 338 of these macaques are reported to live in zoos. However, it is no longer on ‘The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates’ list, after the international body compiling it determined that the local governments in southern India had acted positively to protect it.

Satish Bojan & Dr.Simha Shastry

Satish is a an avid photographer and a wildlife enthusiast.
Dr. Simha has a doctorate in wildlife conservation and is the Editor/Publisher of Adventure & Wildlife Magazine.

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