Lion Tailed Macaque Conservation in India

Lion-Tailed Macaque

Lion-Tailed Macaque

A Rare Species of Primate in India Faces Threat of Extinction 

-Dr. Arvind Singh 

Lion-tailed macaque also called as Wanderoo is a species of primate confined to Western Ghats Mountains of South India. The scientific name of Lion-tailed macaque is Macaca silenus which belongs to Cercopethecidae family of Primates. The Lion-tailed macaque ranks among the rarest and most threatened species of primates. It is listed as ‘Endangered’ in Red List of Threatened Species of International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Endangered species are those which are facing threat of extinction in near future.

Distribution Range and Population Size:

This species of primate is endemic to the Western Ghats Hill ranges in Southwestern India from the Kalakkadu Hills North to Anshi Ghat, in the states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Although the Lion-tailed macaque has a relatively wide range, its area of occupancy is small and severely fragmented.

The total wild population of Lion-tailed macaque is estimated to be less than 4,000 individuals made up of 47 isolated sub-populations in seven different locations. The estimated number of mature individuals is less than 2,500. Few sub-populations have the structure and habitat suitable for self-sustainment, where 10-15 groups share or connect their home ranges and interbreed.

Physical Characteristics:

The most important characteristic of Lion-tailed macaque is the silver-white mane which surrounds the head from the cheek down to its chin. The hair of the Lion-tailed macaque is black. The hairless face is black is colour. It has a head-body length of 42 to 61 cm and a weight of 3 to 10 kg. Thus it ranks among the smaller macaques. The tail is about 25 cm long and has a black tuft at the end similar to a lion’s tail. Hence been named as Lion-tailed macaque. The tail-tuft of males is more developed than that of the females.:

Lion-tailed macaque has two incisors, one canine, three premolars, and two molars in each quadrant of the mouth. This primate species have cheek pouches that open beside the lower teeth and extend down the side of the neck.

Habitat and Ecology:

This arboreal species lives in tropical evergreen and semi-evergreen rain forests. The lion-tailed macaque is typically associated with broadleaf trees. It is also known to exist in areas with human-planted fruit trees such as guava (Psidium guajava), jack fruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) and passion fruit (Passiflora edulis), although population fluctuate based on fruit tree availability within forest fragment. They range in elevation from 100 to 1,800 m.

Being a rainforest dweller Lion-tailed macaque is a good climber and spends a majority of its life in the upper canopy of the forests. Lion-tailed macaques travel in a family group consisting of 10 to 20 members, but there can be as many as 34 members. It is territorial animal, defending its area first with loud cries towards the invading troops.

Lion-tailed macaques are diurnal therefore their activities are confined to light hours between dawn and dusk.
Lion-tailed macaques are omnivorous but their diet consists mainly of fruits. They also eat leaves, stems, buds, flowers, fungi, insects and small vertebrates in the virgin forest but can adapt to rapid environmental change in areas of massive selective logging through behavioural modifications and broadening of food choices to include fruits, seeds, shoots, pith, flowers, cones and other parts of many exotic and pioneer plants. In the forests of Kerala they have been reported preying on nestling and eggs of pigeons.

Lion-tailed macaques are polygynous. Groups of Lion-tailed macaque typically contain one male and several females and juveniles. Although they breeds throughout the year, most births coincide with peak of wet season when resources are abundant. Females attain sexual maturity at 5 years of age while the males attain the sexual maturity at 8 years of age. Gestation period is approximately of 6 months (162-186 days) and female give birth to one offspring. New born macaques weigh between 400 and 500 gm. The young are nursed for one year. The life expectancy of the animal in the wild is about 20 years.

Threats to Survival:

Habitat fragmentation and hunting are the two main threats to the survival of Lion-tailed macaque. Habitat fragmentation is the process where a large, continuous area of habitat is both, reduced in area and divided into two are more fragments. Fragmentation of Lion-tailed macaque habitat is chiefly due to timber harvest, raising of exotic plantations such as eucalyptus, tea, coffee and cinchona and establishment of development projects. Habitat deterioration is the biggest threat to the conservation of Lion-tailed macaques in Kerala. In private forests and plantations, change in land use is problem for the species.

Hunting is the second main threat especially in certain parts of its distribution range. Lion-tailed macaques are generally hunted for meat and medicinal use.

Certain features of the reproductive biology and ecology of Lion-tailed macaques such as large inter-birth periods, seasonal resources availability and female competition for mating opportunities combine to make it rare in the wild.


The range of Lion-tailed macaques has become increasingly isolated and fragmented by the spread of agriculture and tea, coffee, teak, cinchona and eucalyptus plantations, construction of water reservoirs for irrigation and power generation and human settlements to support such activities. Lion-tailed macaques do not live, feed or travel through plantations. Destruction of their habitat and their avoidance of human proximity has led to the drastic reduction in their population consequently they are standing on the verge of extinction.

Lion-tailed macaque is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and Schedule I, Part I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The following actions are needed to conserve the Lion-tailed macaque.

1. To strictly enforce the Wildlife Protection Act. 

2. To regularly monitor the population of Lion-tailed macaque in their habitat. 

3. To check the habitat loss of Lion-tailed macaque. 

4. To restore the degraded habitats of Lion-tailed macaque. 

5. To establish a network of protected areas for their conservation in Western Ghats. 

6. To promote captive breeding of the animal and subsequent release in wild habitat. 

7. To put a complete ban on the plantation of exotic species like eucalyptus in their habitat range. 


It can be concluded that Lion-tailed macaque which is endemic to the Western Ghats of South India is standing on the verge of extinction mainly due to habitat fragmentation and hunting. Therefore conservation of this rare primate species is the need of the hour to sustain our bio-wealth and also for the maintenance of ecological stability.


Dr. Arvind Singh is M. Sc. and Ph. D. in Botany with an area of specialization in Ecology. He is a dedicated Researcher having more than four dozens of published research papers in the journals of national and international repute. His main area of research is the Restoration of Mined Lands. However, he has also conducted research on the Vascular Flora of Banaras Hindu University Main Campus, Varanasi (India). Furthermore, he is also an active science writer having more than 10 dozens of published science articles in different periodicals of national repute. His email address is:

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