The magnificent Lion-tailed macaque is an Old World monkey, named due to its lion-like, long, thin and tufted tail. This adorable primate is unfortunately among most endangered of the macaques around the globe. In the meantime, this animal is one of the smallest macaque species in the world. The Lion-tailed macaque is endemic and native exclusively to Western Ghats (India). It's a living proof of the amazing diversity of its mountain rainforest habitat. As a result of its shy and solitary nature, this animal doesn't tend to venture from its usual range, travelling only within its rainforest habitat.
The natural range of this species is restricted to the Western Ghats Mountains, located in southwestern part of India. Preferred habitat of the Lion-tailed macaques is broad leaf trees, growing in monsoon forests as well as evergreen and semi-evergreen rainforests.
These highly social primates are known to form family units of up to 34 individuals with an average of 10 - 20. Each group consists of a single dominant male and, sometimes, 1 - 2 additional adult males. The dominant male of the group controls breeding. Members of these family units not only travel collectively, but also sleep huddling together. As arboreal and diurnal creatures, they sleep at night in trees (typically, high in the canopy of rainforest). These macaques are territorial and very communicative animals. One of the distinguishing features of this species is that males define boundaries of their home ranges by calls. Dominant males of different groups emit loud, human-like ‘whoops’, after which one of the troops leaves the territory. Overall, their communication system contains as many as 17 vocalizations. Along with calls, the Lion-tailed macaques also use body language. For example, they greet each other by smacking their lips, whereas yawning with a grimace is a display of dominance or threat.
As omnivorous animals, Lion-tailed macaques feed upon a wide variety of food, although fruits form the major part of their diet. Suitable foods include leaves, stems, flowers, buds, fungi as well as meat such as insects, lizards, tree frogs and various small mammals.
Lion-tailed macaques are polygynous, which means that one male gets an exclusive right to mating with multiple females. Lion-tailed macaques breed year-round. However, birth rate usually increases during the wet season, when there is sufficient amount of food. Gestation period lasts for about 6 months, yielding a single infant, which is helpless and completely depends on its mother. The newborn baby is carried on its mother's abdomen. The infant is cared by its mother for a long period of time as it grows and learns various skills. Nursing period lasts for about one year. Soon the young macaques reach adolescence, after which males disperse to join nomadic all-male units, until they form and maintain their own harems. Meanwhile, females usually continue living with their natal group. The age of sexual maturity is 5 years old in females and 8 years old in males.
The biggest threat to the overall population of this species is the destruction of their rainforest habitat. In fact, these primates have lost as much as 99% of their original range as a result of large-scale deforestation for timber, agriculture and development. Lion-tailed macaques live in isolated populations, which are unable to interbreed. Hence, these fragmented populations currently face sharp decline. Additionally, the Lion-tailed macaques are frequently killed because of being mistaken for Nilgiri langurs, which are commonly hunted for their meat that is falsely believed to have medicinal properties. Other notable threats include persecution as pest species due to raiding crops.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population of Lion-tailed macaques is under 4,000 individuals, including less than 2,500 mature individuals. Specific populations have been estimated in the following areas: The forests of Kerala – up to 1,216 adult macaques; Tamil Nadu (the Anaimalai Hills) - about 500 individuals. Overall, the population number of Lion-tailed macaques is decreasing today, and the animals are classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List.
Lion-tailed macaques play some role in the ecosystem they live, as they disperse seeds of fruits and plants they consume. They may also affect predator populations, as items of prey.