The distribution of Lion Tailed Macaque is much restricted within the southern part between latitudes 9◦30’N and 15◦N in the states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Maximum concentration has been observed at Kudremukh, Brahmagiri, Mukambika, Talakaveri, Pushpagiri, Someshwara, Sharavathi, Nilgiri Hills, Anamalai Hills, Cardamon Hills and Periyat Lake. Unfortunately, habitat degradation, population fragmentation and hunting push them towards the fate of extinction as the primate has already been classified as endangered with the status of Schedule-I and Appendix-I.
The specie is endemic to the Western Ghats occurring from slightly north of the Sharavati river in Karnataka to the southern most tip of the Western Ghats and lives in the dense evergreen or semi-evergreen rainforests of high trees in secluded and infrequented areas between 600-1600 m. altitudes. Also occurs in tea and cardamom plantation interspersed with undisturbed or selectively fell evergreen forests. The Lion-tailed Macaque is a diurnal rain forest 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. The mean group size is 18-19 animals, usually with one adult male and 5-6 adult females, sub-adults and immatures. In undisturbed habitats the group size varies from 7 to about 40. However, in forest fragments in the Anamalai Hills group size may be as high as 65 animals. In group behavior, it is much like other macaques: it lives in hierarchical groups of usually ten to twenty 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 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. The Lion-tailed Macaque feeds exclusively on food items rich in carbohydrates or lipids e.g.ripe fruits, seeds, nectar, gums and resins and proteins e.g. invertebrates including foliage insects, snails, birds’ eggs and nestlings and nestlings of the giant squirrels.
Their diet consists mainly of fruits and seeds followed by animal matter and plant products like nectar, resins and flowers. Most species are exploited only for the ripe fruit flesh e.g. Mangifera indica and Semicarpus travancorica. Many species are used for their seeds. Few species are used for both seeds and the mesocarp like Artocarpus hirsuta and A. integrifolia. A few other species are used for nectar like Bombax malabarica. Gums or resins of few species are also used e.g.Gnetum ulae and Vepris bilocularis. The species used for flowers is only one – Xanthophyllum flavescens. Other plant food items include mushrooms, lichens, and mosses. Feeding on leaves is not marked and confined to infrequent and short bouts of feeding on some grass species.
The hair of the Lion-tailed Macaque is dark-brown or 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 of "Beard Ape". The hairless face is black colored. With a head-to-tail length of 45 to 60 cm and a weight of 3 to 10 kg, it ranks among the smaller macaques. The tail is medium length with a length of approximately 25 cm and is a black tuft at the end, similar to a lion's tail. The males’ tail-tuft is more developed than that of the females. Their Gestation is approximately six months. The young are nursed for one year. Sexual maturity is reached at four years for females, six years for males. The life expectancy in the wild is approximately 20 years, while in captivity up to 30 years.
Most of the mating in the Lion-tailed macaque occurs when the female is in oestrus, which is indicated by a swelling in the perineal area, especially at the base of the tail. The duration of the sexual cycle is on an average 30 days with a swelling phase of 14 days and a flat phase of 16 days. Mating reaches a peak about 11-13 days after the swelling appears. Gestation is approximately six months and births peak in December-February. The young are nursed for one year. Sexual maturity is reached at four years for females, six years for males. But the Lion-tailed macaque has a very low birth rate and consequently the inter-birth interval is very long. The life expectancy in the wild is approximately 20 years, while in captivity up to 30 years.
According to the IUCN, only approximately 2,500 of these animals live scattered over several areas in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. 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 don't live, feed or travel through plantations. Destruction of their habitat and the fact that they avoid human proximity, has led to the drastic decrease of their population.
During 1977 to 1980, public concern about the endangered lion-tailed macaque became the focal point of Save Silent Valley, India's fiercest environmental debate of the decade. During 1993 to 1996, fourteen troops of lion-tailed macaque were observed in Silent Valley National Park, Kerala, one of the most undisturbed viable habitats left for the lion-tailed macaque. 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, there had not been any records of Lion-tailed Macaques in that specific area. Many zoos take part in breeding programs which help to secure the survival of this species. 368 of this Macaque are reported to live in zoos.
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