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23 Oct 2021, Edition - 2293, Saturday

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Coimbatore

Macaque on the verge of extinction in Anamalai Wildlife Sanctuary

U Bharath

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Lion tailed macaques ( LTMs), the flagship species of virgin rainforests, are on the verge of extinction due to increasing deforestation and a lack of conservation measures in place, warn Primatologists. The fragmented rainforests in Anamalais (Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary) are a haven to these exotic macaques, which can be easily identified by its prominent mane and a unique social system.

“LTMs are great navigators of the rainforest; if you follow them, you could get to know the remotest corners of the rainforest as they travel long distances jumping from canopy to canopy.

Primarily, a frugivorous species, which live in the high canopies of massive rainforest trees, they now come down to the roadside to take food offered by tourists. This practice will only pave the way to LTMs losing its health and natural food habits. Moreover, by feeding these exotic monkeys, humans can unwitting pass on diseases,” said M Ananthakumar, a Primatologist of the Nature Conservation Foundation.

“The increased destruction of natural rainforest patches in plantations poses a grave threat to the existence of the species in the Anamalai sanctuary. While some plantation companies still maintain the fragmented rain forest patches in their properties, others have cut down the trees which are the natural habit of these exotic monkeys,” said Dr Alit Kumar, a Primatologist.

“Unlike other macaques , the LTMs have a unique social system; they are uni-male societies, like a lion pride, and live in small groups of 25 to 40; we have a group of 128 macaques in Puthuthottam near Valparai which is easily the biggest group in Anamalai,” said Ananthakumar.

Typically, the females breed every two years, and they beget single or twin infants. “The redeeming factor is one female is always found to be in heat in this cyclic feature of breeding,” Ananthakumar said.

Commercial logging in the past century proved a bane as vast stretches of virgin rainforests were decimated and there are only 500-550 LTMs left in the whole of the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary now. Anthropogenic intervention has put a big question mark on the continuance of the species and measures need to be taken for the restoration of a healthy population, say Primatologists.

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