Sabyasachi Patra

A date with Lion Tailed Macaques

A Date with Lion- tailed Macaques

I have been longing to renew my acquaintance with the Lion tailed macaques for some time. However, due to work pressure I was postponing my visits. Finally, I could resist no more and headed towards Anamalais with Valparai as the first stop in filming Lion tailed macaques.
My trusted Safari 4×4 had a condenser coil failure the previous day. However, I could get the part replaced and the next day, I was driving towards Valparai from Chennai. I followed the Chennai – Krishnagiri – Salem – Coimbatore – Polachi- Valparai route. The road construction is still remaining in a stretch of about 50-60kms while approaching Coimbatore and is a real pain.

I had decided to stay in a tea estate and had booked a bungalow. I reached there at around 1:30 pm and discovered that the lovely bungalow named Indraprastha is about 120 years old and has been recently renovated. A few minutes were spent in unpacking and the lunch was ready. After a heavy lunch, I thought it prudent to relax. The light drizzle making my decision easier.

The neatly cut rows of tea bushes appear like a nice green lawn but are far from environment friendly as lot of synthetic pesticides are sprayed and they have come in prime forest areas

In the evening, after a cup of coffee, I thought it fit to go for a casual stroll. After a while, decided to sit on the culvert of a bridge to hear the sound of water flowing in the stream. It was dark outside and after an hour or so while returning back, I discovered that the staff have panicked. I was told that there has been a spate of sloth bear attacks in the recent past. The caretaker cum cook indicated to me that a bear had come near the verandah. There was a depression in the mud, but no foot prints to verify that he is indeed speaking the truth. The watchman, who was from Assam told me that Sloth bears and Gaurs routinely visit the estate. Later on the administrator told me about the sloth bear attacks. One of the tea pickers probably stumbled upon a sloth bear and was badly mauled. She was admitted in the tea estate hospital, however the bleeding didn’t stop for two days and they were forced to transfer her to a bigger hospital elsewhere. A tinge of sadness gripped me, thinking about the plight of the poor tea pluckers. I couldn’t imagine someone bleeding for two days. Not sure why the tea estate didn’t think it fit to shift the lady immediately to a bigger hospital. Probably, profit motive overrides all considerations for human life.

The next day, I drove down towards Valparai. On the road, found the two watchmen employed by NCF. They are supposed to warn motorists so that lion tailed macaques don’t get run over by vehicles.

Since the lion tailed macaques could not be found, I moved ahead. While returning, I decided to park the vehicle and take a stroll. And voila! The lion tailed macaques were there on a nearby tree.

Lion tailed Macaque on a tree

A few of those were perched on top of a few houses of the tribals. It was interesting watching them move from one roof top to the other using the wires hanged for drying clothes. Soon one Lion Tailed Macaque mother came with its baby to the roof top in front of me and started grooming it. I couldn’t suppress my smile when I found that one lady came out of the house and started searching for lice from a small girl’s head.

A Lion tailed Macaque mother carrying her kid

I watched and filmed the Lion tailed Macaques for a couple of hours till the watchmen appeared on the scene and indicated that there were leaches. And then the struggle starts to find out where all the leaches have invaded. The only feasible solution was to rush to the confines of my Tata Safari, so as not to strip down in the open.

Sabyasachi photographing a lion tailed Macaque on his SafariLeech on leg
The leeches secrete an anti-coagulant called hirudin and an anesthetic. The anesthetic ensures that you don’t feel the bite. I still remember the pain I felt when a local anesthesia was injected in the webbing of my fingers to set right my brokern fingers. The pain of administering the anesthesia was high. I think it would be a real book if scientists study leeches and develop better anesthesia.

The anti-coagulant injected by the leech stops the blood from clotting and the painkiller does its job so that you don’t realise. The watchman had told me that they place small strips of paper over the spot where the leech has bitten and the blood dries up and clots after sometime. Unlike the leeches found in our villages, the leeches in the forest are small in size and are shiny. To prevent leech attacks, you need to either use leech proof socks or just raise your trousers so that the leeches cannot climb up using the trousers. I was told Leeches sense their prey based on smell and vibrations as they are in the leaf litter. One leech also fell on my neck from a tree. So they remain in the trees as well and one needs to be careful.

When we were kids, in our village they used to tell us that placing salt results in the leech immediately bursting out. We used to even have fun with it. However, I realised later that if the leech if we put salt or spray any spray (leech is very sensitive to chemicals), then the leach will burst/drop but it vomits into the wound and the wound is infected. Also by pulling out the leech or crushing it, results in its teeth remaining in your body. The best method of removing a leech from your body is toslowly put a thin stick or object between the leech and your body and slowly pull up sideways the narrow end portion of the leech. This will result in the leech stop sucking the blood and you can remove both its ends this way.

After this leech hunt was over, I was too distracted and enervated to continue with the filming. A quick lunch followed and by the time my lunch was over, the lion tailed macaques had left the place and moved away. Soon the sky opened up and it started pouring. It was time to start the slow drive in the ghat roads. A cup of hot tea from a road side tea stall lifted the spirits and reached the bungalow by 4 pm.

I hoped that the Sloth bear will make an appearance; however, the sloth bear apparently had other ideas.

The next day morning it was time again to have a date with the Lion tailed macaques. There were lot of fighting among the Lion tailed Macaques. One big male was trying to mate and another female was disrupting it. There were lot of vehicles passing very close to the Lion tailed Macaques.

Thankfully, no one was hurt. Around noon time, suddenly they all started calling each other and then left the scene. I wish, I could have recorded the sound. I cursed myself for having left my sound recording equipment in the Safari parked a kilometer away.

I thought it was better to have lunch. After lunch, I was undecided where to go, however, thought of checking the same place again. Thankfully, a group of lion tailed macaques were there. A lion tailed macaque was near a stream too. I parked my Tata Safari and got down. Immediately, the lion tailed macaque appeared infront of the vehicle. No sooner had I got down to photograph it, the Lion tailed macaque climbed on top of the Safari. I quickly closed the doors, lest it gets inside and damages my precious photographic equipment.

After sometime, the lion tailed macaques left the spot. I could see one at a distance on a tree. Suddenly it moved and broke a honey comb and ran down the tree in a fraction of a second, so that the honey bees could not sting it. After few minutes, when the honey bees had deserted the fallen honeycomb, the lion tailed macaque picked it up and had a sumptuous feast on the honey. It was a great learning for me. I wish, I could have filmed the scene with a wider angle, as the honeycomb was only visible for a brief moment in my footage. This incident, tells how less we understand the behaviour of our endangered species. Since then there have been many more visits to different areas in search of Lion tailed Macaques, and the many pleasurable moments of watching these endangered primates.

You can watch my film “A Call in the Rainforest” in the link below:

The lion-tailed macaques had climbed on top of my Tata Safari and had engaged in false-mating behaviour. This documentary was awarded the Vasundhara Puraskar by Maharastra CM in 2012 and was the Official Selection in Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, New York in 2014.

Sabyasachi Patra
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