de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2007). Hanuman Langurs. Montage. October-November 2007. Pages 26-27. Volume 01, Issue 10.
We were returning from the site of the destroyed Yala Safari Game Lodge when we observed a line of Hanuman Langurs straddling the road. They were just beyond a culvert, under which a finger of the Goda Kalapuwa would flow when it was full. The langurs were relaxed and some were playing, others groomed each other. Both play and grooming are vital social functions for lubricating the social dynamics between troop members.
I counted nearly 30 on the ground and I asked Wicky Wickremesekera to perform an accurate count as I could see several more perched on the trees besides the road. Wicky claimed that the total count was around 105. Incredulous and thinking he had been over-generous in his count, I also took the binoculars and counted. My count came to 108 individuals, one of the largest troops I have seen.
A motorcycle came thundering along. ‘Oh no’ we thought, this would disperse the troop. The troop did disperse, but did do somewhat lackadaisically. To our surprise a few individuals actually walked towards the approaching motorcycle and had a face off. The motorcyclist drove through but some of the Hanuman Langurs stayed on the road although many had taken cover in the trees. We kept our distance at a hundred meters or so and before long the langurs returned to the road and this time were about 50 strong. Two lorries came together next. They paused as they could see us photographing. Perhaps the langurs interpreted their pause as a sign of indecision. Once again two or three individuals attempted to challenge the approaching vehicles. After a while they assembled across the road again and subsequently crossed to the near bank and we realised the troop was much larger, perhaps even 150 individuals.
‘Jackal ahead’ called out Wicky who is known for being sharp eyed. Chaminda Jayawera and I squinted and some distance away we could make out a dog-like shape trotting along the road. Another shape appeared over the horizon and down along the dusty road and soon there were four. Two melted away and a pair crossed over the causeway. One melted into the bushes leaving one who sat down gazing hungrily at the langurs.
A large Hanuman Langur came bounding out and stood squarely facing the jackal who had sat on its haunches. Soon, another two came along to reinforce what I presume was the dominant or alpha male. It would serve the sub-ordinate males with their future prospects of promotion up the hierarchy if they could show off their prowess to the other males. With so many females watching there was even a chance of a sneak mating with a suitably impressed female for a beta male.
Three more Hanuman Langurs arrived and ran behind the Jackal and kept watch from a tree. The langurs were slowly en-circling the Jackal. With the rest of the males keeping watch for any arrival of Jackal reinforcements, the alpha male bounded in what seemed like serious intent to cause bodily harm. The jackal fled with the Hanuman Langur in pursuit. Examining the images later I realised how large a male Hanuman is in relation to a jackal. Although a jackal could emerge the victor from a fight, it would not want to risk injury. A bite could be damaging and leave it sufficiently injured to impair its hunting. This would spell starvation and slow death.
The pack of Jackals emerged later and crossed the dry lagoon. I suspect one was a cub and the other a sub-adult from a previous brood. Jackals are sociable animals who often have helpers assisting the dominant pair. A few Hanuman Langurs followed them behind to see them off. We had kept our distance from the langurs right from the start and resisted the temptation to drive in close for a better photograph. The result had been the reward of one of the most enthralling primate watching sessions we have ever experienced.
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a corporate personality who is also a writer and photographer on a mission to create a million wildlife enthusiasts. E-mail him to subscribe to his quarterly wildlife e-newsletter.aa