Lordly langurs.

AuthorStarin, Dawn

There was once a creature that could trap the moon between his jaws, carry the sun in his armpit, transport mountains in his hand, change his size and shape at will, slay dragons, melt rocks with his songs of devotion, and write the finest poetry. This simian god--the original superhero, Hanuman--was worshipped for his strength and agility, his mental brilliance and talent, his total discipline and devotion, his humility and celibacy, and his ability to triumph over the evils of ego. Today, his namesakes, the Hanuman langurs, are having a hard time living up to this image.


For thousands upon thousands of years, Hanuman langurs have shared the Indian subcontinent with an ever-expanding human population by adapting to such diverse habitats as towns, cities, temples, ancient ruins, croplands, and many types of wet and dry forests. There are, however, limits to how much and how fast an animal can adapt. There are also limits to how much langur-caused devastation--to crops and produce, for example--people will tolerate. Someday, these black-faced, gray-haired distant relatives of ours may reach that limit.


Langur monkeys, like many other species of wildlife, are being threatened by the spread and rapid growth of the human population, and some people are beginning to exchange their ancient beliefs for modern economic practices. Unfortunately, the image of Hanuman the god, the dispeller of all problems, is now being replaced by Hanuman the monkey, the harbinger of problems.


As the human population expands and Asia's forests dwindle, the langur is forced to become more dependent on people for resources and resource space. There is no other way: food and living space must be shared with people, dogs, cows, goats, and other domestic animals, creating an extremely fragile union. While the forest langur's diet consists mostly of plant food items plucked from a nearby branch, the non-forest langur often has a more complicated time finding food. At temples and ancient ruins throughout the subcontinent, boiled rice, papads, chappatis, and other cooked foods are a regular part of the langur's diet. Langurs cluster around these sites begging for easy handouts from priests, worshippers, and tourists. Although this may seem like a perfect situation--all food and no toil--it is possible that the forest-dwelling populations, renowned for their ability to digest many toxic fruits and leaves...

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