de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2009). Primate Safaris. Hi Magazine. December 2009. Series 7, Volume 5. Page 208-210. ISSN 1800-0711.
An introduction to the primates of Sri Lanka, adapted from ‘Sri Lankan Wildlife’ published by Bradt Travel Guides.
Increasingly the leisure industry in Sri Lanka is using primates as a media tool for gaining editorial coverage to Sri Lanka. One example of this is the 152 page book, ‘Primates of Sri Lanka’ which was published as a pdf by the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau. The production of the book was sponsored by Canon through Metropolitan their local agents in Sri Lanka. The book was written by Dr Anna Nekaris of the UK and photographed principally by wildlife celebrity Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne. The book complements a new television series on Sri Lankan primates in Polonnaruwa. The 13, half hour episodes are being aired world-wide.
Hi Magazine Editor Shyamalee Tudawe recently visited Jetwing Vil Uyana which offers primate safaris. Together with Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, they watched Hanuman Langurs and Toque Monkeys around the Sigiriya area. Travelling further afield to Polonnaruwa, they caught up with the Northern race of the Purple-faced Leaf Monkey. On a previous field visit with Gehan to the Talnagama Wetland, she was able to see the critically endangered Western Purple-faced leaf Monkey. This is listed amongst the 25 most endangered primates in the world.
For more information on primates, download the ‘Primates of Sri Lanka from www.srilanka.travel orwww.jetwingeco.com. A brief guide to the primats of Sri Lanka is published below from text which has been adapted from ‘Sri Lankan Wildlife published by Bradt Travel Guides. This book is available from local bookshops (Vijitha Yapa, MD Gunsasena, etc) as well as from internet sellers like Amazon.
A Brief Guide to the Primates of Sri Lanka
The primates are arguably the most intelligent and evolved of mammals. They are found on every continent, except for Australia and Antarctica, but tend to be concentrated in the tropical belt. The primates order is divided into two suborders, one comprising of the more primitive lemurs, lorises, galagos and tasiers; and the other comprising of the monkeys, apes and humans. Both are represented in Sri Lanka: the former by two species of loris and the latter by three species of monkey. Together these five species represent a fair cross-section of the primate evolutionary tree, and they occur at unusually high densities.
Lorises are among the most ancient of primates. Sri Lanka has two species, the grey slender loris (Loris lydekkerianus) and the red slender loris (Loris tardigradus). The grey loris is present in good numbers in the north-central province, around Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa. The red loris is smaller and more active, almost scampering across branches. It occurs mostly in the wet-zone lowlands. Two separate highland races, one found in Horton Plains National Park and one in the Knuckles range, may yet be classified as separate species.
The two species of lorises are both small mammals and can fit inside a pair of cupped hands. They don’t have a tail and have two large, saucer like eyes facing forward. They don’t look anything like a monkey and are often described as an owl-like animal by people who stumble across one. They are quite agile animals moving nimbly within trees as one would expect from the other small tree dwelling mammals.
Lorises make use of their sense of smell in marking territories and signaling readiness to breed. Large noses and scent glands are evidence of this. One of the digits on the forearms has a special claw called the ‘toilet claw’, which they use for scratching and also cleaning out their ears. Lorises also have a modified tooth with comb-like serrations, which they use for grooming.
Although lorises use a range of vocalisations, a short shrill whistle – easily mistaken for an insect’s call – is generally all that is heard by humans. This and their unobtrusive, nocturnal behaviour may explain why people are often not aware of the presence of lorises in a forest.
Sri Lanka’s three monkey species all belonging to the family of old world monkeys. This can be further divided into two sub-families, one which which includes the langurs and colobus species. The other sub-family has the baboons, macaques and guenons. Sri Lanka’s endemic purple-faced leaf monkey (Presbytis senex) and hanuman langur (Presbytis entellus) belong to the former. The endemic toque macaque (Macaca sinica) belongs to the latter.
Leaf monkeys are long-tailed monkeys that live in the trees, where they eat mostly leaves. The purple-faced leaf monkey has two races in the wet lowlands, one to the north of the Kalu Ganga (river) and one to the south of it. The western race (the one to the north) is found in places such as the Talangama Wetland, around Bellanwila Attidiya and the Bolgoda lake. It is critically endangered, mainly due to loss of habitat. The southern race (to the south of the river) can be seen in Sinharaja Rainforest. It has a prominent white patch on its rump and side of the rear legs. The tail is frosted white. Another race in the highlands, known as bear monkey, has a shaggy coat to offer protection from the cold.
The other leaf monkey, the graceful hanuman langur, has long limbs, a pale grey-brown coat and a dark face. Long eyelashes help it to avoid the glare when feeding in treetops. Generally leaf monkeys are shy and not likely to trouble people. But at least one habituated population of hanuman langurs has shown aggression, and this usually inoffensive animal can be a formidable sight when gnashing its fearsome incisors.
The toque macaque – or toque monkey – is a compact and shorter-tailed monkey, with reddish- to yellowish-brown fur, and is more terrestrial in its habits than leaf monkeys. Like all ‘cheek-pouch monkeys’, it has cheek pouches that contain salivary compounds to break down toxins in plant matter. These pouches – absent in leaf monkeys – also help it to deal with feeding competition, allowing toque monkeys literally to stuff their faces. Sri Lanka’s pronounced climate zones have resulted in three races of the toque macaque, with one in the dry lowlands, one in the wet lowlands and one longer-haired race in the highlands.
Most cheek-pouch monkeys maintain male-dominated hierarchies with an alpha male. However, studies of toque macaques show that the troops are formed on matrilineal lines, with females providing the stable core. This species is hierarchical and the young of higher placed females inherit a higher status in the troop. Toque macaques are widespread in Sri Lanka and can be common in some populous areas. They should always be treated with caution – especially where people feed them, which creates an illusion that humans are subordinate.
WHERE TO WATCH PRIMATES IN SRI LANKA
Sri Lanka offers outstanding opportunities to observe primates at close quarters. The following are among the best sites.
On the outskirts of Colombo, the Talangama Wetland is a 30–45 minute drive from central Colombo, where most of the tourist accommodation is based. It is a reliable location in which to see the critically endangered, western race of the purple-faced leaf monkey. It is also good for birds and dragonflies, and for observing traditional rural life.
Hakgala Botanical Gardens
The Hakgala Botanical Gardens are 15–20 minutes drive from the highland town of Nuwara Eliya. Above them is the Hakgala Strict Nature Reserve, a refuge for rare montane plants and animals. The montane races of both the purple-faced leaf monkey (known as the bear monkey) and the toque macaque are most easily observed here. Both species are used to people, the toques at times seeming alarmingly casual. Elsewhere, the bear monkey is usually very shy and crashes away at the merest hint of people.
The forbidden forest of the ancient Kandyan kings is on a hill behind the famous Temple of the Tooth Relic, which overlooks the Kandy Lake. The wet zone race of the toque macaque, known as the dusky toque, reigns supreme here, in large quarrelsome troops. Don’t feed them: this will only encourage aggression.
Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa archeological reserves
The archaeological sites in the north central province are surprisingly rich in primates, with the dry lowland race of the toque macaque, the northern race of the purple-faced leaf monkey and the hanuman langur all occurring in troops together. The leaf monkeys are less shy than usual at these heavily visited sites but, being leaf-eaters, are not likely to show an interest in your sandwiches. The hanuman langurs and toque macaques are both quite bold, and the latter will steal your food given the chance. This area is also very good for the nocturnal grey loris.
The rainforests of Galle
Kottawa, Hiyare and Kanneliya are rainforests that can be reached from Galle. Kottawa and Hiyare are within a half hour’s drive; Kanneliya is at least one-and-a-half hours away. The southern race of the purple-faced leaf monkey occurs in small, very shy troops in these lowland rainforests. The nocturnal and endemic red loris also lives here, but is hard to find.