Decreasing Leaf Monkey population at North-East

Phayre’s Leaf Monkey, Trachypithecus phayrei, is severely hunted down for some superstitious oriental medicines and meat is so loved by the tribal communities as the tail even eaten, the skin used for knife sheaths and the fur for clothing accessories! An ever increasing demand for it body parts are being observed all through the north-eastern states of India and adjacent countries. Poaching apart, their population is seriously dwindling due to continuous habitat loss! In common with other primate species in Asia, threats also include habitat fragmentation brought about by clearance for crops and commercial plantations, grazing, human settlements, roads, dams and power lines as well as logging for timber, firewood and charcoal production.

Once, the species was well distributed in Tripura, Mizoram, and Assam while now they are rarely sighted at Cachar, Hailakandi, and Karimganj districts only. But still there is some distribution of Leaf Monkey at Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. The species lives in primary and secondary forests, and also on tea estates where bamboo thickets are found. In Assam Phayre's leaf-monkey is found to live in depleted evergreen forests containing bamboo, favoring habitats dominated by the shrub Macaranga denticulata and the herb Alpinia allughas. In Mizoram this species is found in secondary forests and a dense bamboo forest with a few scattered trees. It is also found in higher densities in mixed-species plantations than in monoculture plantations.

It Leaf Monkey plays great role in sustaining the eco-system by consuming immature leaves to more mature ones, that the canopy cannot obstructs the sunlight to the ground fodder, which is essential for the herbivorous. In the Inner Line Reserve Forest of Assam, this species was found to mainly consume bamboo shoots. In southern Assam the three most preferred food items were Teinestachum dulloea, Dendrocalamus griffithii, and Mokania micrantha. At Sipahijala, Tripura, young rubber shoots are an important part of the diet during the dry season. An exotic plantation species, Akashmani, Acacia auriculiformis, accounted for some feeding on plantation species. Ripe and unripe fruits, seeds, petioles, flowers and gums are also included in their dietary chart.

They live in groups and relatively small home range. Saltlick visits also increased the home range. The species is basically an arboreal one and appears diurnal, since, it hardily comes down to ground for feeding. Surprisingly, a group's reaction to a dead member remained close to the body, touching and caressing it at ground been observed in Tripura! Neighboring groups also come near the body, but no aggression between the groups is being observed, during that particular time. Neighboring groups may be related and the second group may have protected the first group from predators because the dead body was on the ground and Phayre's leaf-monkey rarely descends to the ground. Remaining close to the body may reduce the stress of the group members.

"A battle against superstition and Leaf's meat consumption are badly required to save this unique primate species in the wild" -says Samik Gupta.

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