Territorial Tensions

Every day since my arrival at Cardamom County, I’ve either seen or woken up to the sounds of monkeys scurrying across my roof, launching themselves from their tree branches onto my tiled terrace, and looking curiously into my room as if there were giant bananas inside. As it turns out, they can’t really see inside unless the lights are on, so it might have been their own fuzzy reflections they were so intrigued by – the narcissists. Whatever the case may be, something is different in the woods these days, because I’m not referring to the rambunctious and social bonnet macaques that are commonly seen scurrying about human settlements and unabashedly snatching snacks out of disinclined hands all over southern India. Rather, these are the larger, less numerous and more standoffish Nilgiri Langur, a black monkey with an exceptionally long tail, a bushy brown coif and a commanding presence.

These primates are rarely seen outside of their natural forest habitat, as Michael noted when he first saw them exploring the resort premises. Indigenous to the Western Ghats, they are an endangered species due to years of poaching, making each sighting even more of a surprise. According to Saleem, assistant resort manager and resident forestry expert, the nilgiri langurs have been seen around the property for the past few weeks, but before that, not for six or seven months. Saleem also confirmed my hunch that they don’t exactly get along with the macaques, as he’s actually witnessed a few spats between the two species. In the vertigo-inducing video I’m sharing here*, you might notice their apparent distance from each other, evidence of their mutual disdain. You might also notice the nilgiri langur’s facial expressions in the final bit, gesticulations which I can only interpret to mean “I don’t like you.”  

Interestingly, with each troop of nilgiri langurs I’ve seen moving through the property, a troop of macaques has followed, or vice versa. Now, I’m no zoologist, but what this suggests to me is some territorial tensions between the species, whereby the macaques, with their relative ubiquity in the area, are trying to drive out the encroaching nilgiri langurs, with their imposing strength and aggression. The video above somewhat captures some evidence of this hypothesis, showing what appear to be comfortable macaques and ill-at-ease nilgiri langurs, though we’ll have to wait and see what develops in the days and weeks to come.

*Please excuse the amateur camera work. Needless to say I was a bit excited by the rare sighting of both species at one time.

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