Dawn breaks over the Anaimalai Hills of Tamil Nadu, piercing the canopy with spokes of golden light. The rainforest is veiled in mist. The air is cool, alive with the sound of bird call. Dew hangs from moss-covered branches, dripping slowly to the canopy floor. The ground is soft, littered with leaves and fragrant with the scent of humus. There are trees everywhere, some squat and sturdy, others tall and slender, reaching for the sky. This is a world far from ours, where the air is clean, streams run clear, and there isn’t a human in sight, on most days. It is also the home of the elusive lion-tailed macaque, endemic to the Western Ghats of India, where it has lived for thousands of years.
Lion-tailed macaques are one of several primates that live in these jungles. They are unique in anatomy and temperament. Easily distinguished by their shaggy, silver manes, these macaques are what conservationists call a “specialist species”, meaning they can thrive in only select habitats with familiar flora and food sources. Unlike “generalist species”, like the rhesus macaque, their ability to adapt is relatively low.
Largely arboreal, they spend their days napping, grooming, swinging from branch to branch, and foraging for fruit. In a large enough habitat, a lion-tailed macaque might spend weeks, even months in the treetops without setting foot on the ground. Nowadays however, much of their habitat is fragmented into small pockets due to roadways and plantations, forcing this tree-dwelling monkey to walk amongst us.