Vanishing Species _Gee’s Golden Langur


An Article by Mohan Pai

Gee’s Golden Langur

(Trachypithecus geei)

The most beautifully coloured langur with golden fur is a highly endangered primate. Less than 1,000 animals survive in the wild.

E. P. Gee, a well-known naturalist was a tea planter of Assam, who spent half a lifetime studying and photographing animals and birds in India. He discovered the Golden Langur in Assam and brought it to the attention of science as a new species of primates. Mr. Gee was also a member of the Indian Wildlife Board and a good friend of late Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Discovery of the Golden Langur

From the book “The Wild Life of India” by E. P. Gee
“ … A new kind of langur has recently been discovered near the foothills of the very sam region in which the yeti and buru were sought.This new monkey is the golden langur. As it was supposed to have been discovered by me, it was named by the Zoological Survey of India as Presbytis geei or Gee’s Langur.
For a number of years there had been reports of a cream-coloured langur on the east bank of Sankosh river, near Jamduar which is close to the India-Bhutan border. The first news of the existence of this animal came from E. O. Shebbeare in 1907, but no photographic record and no live or dead specimen were obtained for examination.

… From time to time in the late forties and early fifties I had been told about the existence of these cream-coloured langurs near the Sankoshi river. So I decided to visit Jamduar and find out if these monkeys were a new species or not.
I went to Jamduar in November 1953, and was delighted to find two troupes of these golden langurs on the east of the river, close to Bhutan. They were very pale chestnut colour, as it was then winter. I found out later that the colour varies at different seasons of the year: the golden or light chestnut colour of the cold weather pales into creamy-white with the advent of the hot weather in March.
I photographed these exquisitely beautiful langurs both with still and cine cameras, and spent many days watching them. The larger troupe consisted of thirty to forty animals and the smaller one had about fifteen members. A third troupe was seen by my friends while they were fishing downstream.
In January 1955 we had a meeting of our IBWL in Calcutta, and I showed my cine film of these langurs to the members of Government House, Dr. S. L. Vora, then Director of the Zooogical Survey of India, was also present and showed keen interest in my film and my news of this langur. At my request he instructed his Survey Party to visit the area to investigate and collect some specimens.
This Survey Party, headed by H. Khajuria, duly collected six specimens, one of which was subsequently donated at my request to the British Museum. In his official description of this langur as a new species, Khajuria very kindly named if Presbytis geei, which I gratefully (but very humbly) acknowledge !”

Gee’s Golden Langur (Trachypithecus geei), or simply the Golden Langur, is an Old World monkey found in a small region of western Assam, India and in the neighboring foothills of the Black Mountains of Bhutan. It is one of the most endangered primate species of India. Long considered sacred by many Himalayan peoples, the Golden Langur was first brought to the attention of science by the naturalist E. P. Gee in the 1950s.The Golden Langur is known for its rich golden to bright creamish hair, a black face and a very long tail measuring up to 50 cm in length. For the most part, the langur is confined to high trees where its long tail serves as a balancer when it leaps across branches. During the rainy season it obtains water from dew and rain drenched leaves. Its diet is herbivorous, consisting of ripe and unripe fruits, mature and young leaves, seeds, buds and flowers.The region of its distribution is very small, limited to the area bounded on the south by the Brahmaputra river, on the east by the Manas river, on the west by the Sankosh river, all in Assam, India, and on the north by the Black Mountains of Bhutan. These biogeographical barriers are believed to have led to the radiation of species from closely related capped langurs (Trachypithecus pileatus). It generally lives in troops of about 8 (but sometimes up to 50) with several females to each adult male. The Golden Langur is currently endangered, the total Indian population in 2001 was recorded to be 1,064 individuals, with the relative dearth of infants and juveniles indicating a declining population and with the habitat being degraded by human activity. A fragmented but protected population in a rubber plantation in Nayakgaon, Kokrajhar district of Assam increased in population from 38 individuals in 1997 to 52 in 2002. The population has also adapted to feeding on dry rubber seeds.

A complex political situation led to a major deforestation. Political agitation in western Assam began in the late 1980s by Bodo tribal groups frustrated by the changing emigration of non-Bodo peoples into Assam, creating a minority of the indigenous Bodo tribal people. Two militant groups sprung up as an answer to the situation and began an armed struggle for Bodo autonomy from the Indian government. These groups had somewhat similar but competing aims basing their armed struggle from within the forests of western Assam and Bhutan. These were two of over 15 militant groups that emerged in Assam, creating a chaotic atmosphere with resulting deforestation and ethnic violence.

The Isolated and Fragmented Southern Populations of the Golden Langur
Its range once extended throughout the 11722 sq km area of evergreen,dipterocarp, riverine and moist deciduous forests of western Assam and Bhutanbordered by the rivers Sankosh in the west, Manas in the east and Brahmaputra in thesouth. These rivers along with the Black Mountains of the lower Himalaya in Bhutan inthe north formed the ecological barriers to the further dispersal of the species.
Recent studies indicate that their distribution has reduced significantly and theirpopulation now consists of very small groups with a higher proportion of adultsand very few juveniles and infants. Today about 250 Goldenlangurs survive in Chakrashila.

The other small populations remain fragmented and isolated. For instance, about40 survive in the rubber plantation at Nayekgao and 80-100 in Kakoijana Reserve Forest near Bongaigaon. Quite a good number of langurs, singly, in twos or invery small groups have taken shelter in village woodlands comprising of bamboobrakes and some trees. These langurs are slowly vanishing through poaching orare being killed by domestic dogs while crossing clearings. These strandedlangurs have also developed orchard raiding habit thus inviting trouble fromvillagers. Food shortage is apparent in areas such as Nayekgaon rubberplantation where the langurs have started feeding on rubber seeds.

Pic by Arunchs

Golden Langur Conservation Project

The forests of the Manas Biosphere Reserve in western Assam, India have been threatened by illegal logging since the early 1990s. In the last 10 years approximately one third to one half of the three Reserve Forests, Ripu, Chirrang, and Manas, encompassing 350,000 acres, have been deforested. These Reserve Forests and the Royal Manas Sanctuary of Bhutan that borders to the north are the main range of the golden langur ( Trachypithecus geei ) , a leaf-eating primate species occurring only in Assam and Bhutan. In Assam, the species also inhabits a number of “island” fragments south of the main range such as the Kakoijana Reserve Forest (RF), Chakrashila Wildlife Sanctuary (WS) and Nadangiri Reserve Forest.

In 1997, Community Conservation initiated a project to protect the golden langur and the Manas Biosphere Reserve working in conjunction with the Indo-U.S. Primate Project that ended in 2001. Community Conservation now works with a recently formed Forum of five Assamese NGOs. The Manas Biosphere Conservation Forum is composed of Aaranyak of Guwahati, Green Forest Conservation of Kachugaon, Green Heart Nature Club of Kokrajhar, Natures Foster of Bongaigaon and New Horizons of Koila Moila. Together these NGOs cover most of the Assam range of the golden langur. Aaranyak served as the in-country coordinating NGO through 2006 and that role has recently been taken over by Natures Foster as Aaranyak concentrates on its other projects. Each of the organizations focuses on sections of the golden langur range and on specific aspects of work, while all working with the villages within their focal areas.

References: “The Wild Life of India” by E. P. Gee, Wikipedia, A Field Guide to Indian Mammals by Vivek Menon, India Conservation Projects (Northeast India)

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