A shy johnny

Malabar langoor The Nilgiri langurs we came across were very private. There was a large tribe of them foraging on trees by the road near Valparai. As soon as our car stopped, the nearest ones fled further into the forest. I got off and tried to photograph the ones in the next tree, and they fled as well. This happened over and over again. I got a couple of shots of one by hiding behind a thick bush and sighting through a narrow opening between its thorny branches. The only clear shot was of one sleeping on a high branch of a tree very far away (below).

A sleeping Nilgiri langur
A Nilgiri langur sleeps on a branch of a tree as far from a road as it can get. I guess it finds this posture comfortable.

These monkeys have a glossy dark body with a light golden brown head, and would look lovely in photos. The morning light was just right, but the subjects were shy. This was so frustrating and strange! The lion-tailed macaques we saw would walk right next to us without even looking at us. So it could not only be the indirect conflict of lost habitats which was influencing the behaviour of the langurs. I just had to google this.

The answer was simple: exactly as I’d thought, they were traditionally hunted, as they continue to be. Traditional medicine uses their body parts as medicines and aphrodisiac. Since the passage of laws protecting them the trade has gone underground and presumably trade volumes of so-called medicines have decreased.

An important reference seems to be the 2011 studbook, but arkive is a good place for a shorter description. I learnt from the studbook that the classification of langurs is still an open question. There may be as few as 5000 individuals, and even the higher estimates still give a total population of no more than 15000. It is a pity that this beautiful monkey is so hard to see.

Super Sunday

Nilgiri tahr Malabar parakeet
Black-winged cuckoo shrike Malabar langoor

Valparai is a good base for birding and wildlife sighting. Although the ecology in the immediate neighbourhood is massively disturbed by the monoculture of tea, it is a buffer zone for the nearby Annamalai tiger reserve forest. With the boom in nature tourism in India, tea estates in this region have begun to create boutique hotels which are geared to this traffic.

In our last few hours we had a number of lucky sightings. Going from left to right and top to bottom are pictures of one of the endangered Nilgiri tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) a small herd of which crossed the road as we drove back to Coimbatore airport, a Malabar parakeet (aka the blue-winged parakeet, Psittacula columboides) seen at a distance and against the light but a lifer, a view of the confusing grey-bellied cuckoo (Cacomantis passerinus; thanks for ID help Doe-eyes), a member of a very shy band of the black-bodied Nilgiri langur (Trachypithecus johnii) which is slowly losing its habitat to humans.

muruganguideLike us humans, most animals and birds seem to have a fairly routine life. So an individual will usually be found at one or three usual places. That’s why a local guide helps. S/he knows where a hornbill has been nesting, or parrots come every day at a certain time to feed. We were lucky to have Murugan with us. He was a fount of local knowledge, and had enough interest in birds to be carrying a well-used copy of a Tamil edition of “Birds of Southern India” by Grimmett and Inskipp. More than that, he never tried to hurry us on to somewhere, but neither did he stop suggesting what he knew would be great sights. I wish we knew more than a few words of Tamil. It would have been good to have longer conversations with him.