Around Agumbe with Lion-tailed macaque!
COVID was a time for all of us to realize the relationship and impact that we have on the environment. To be the precise impact of humans on wildlife, as we saw wildlife thrive roaming wild and free from traffic and city lights. People who lived in cities like Bangalore were surprised to see a peacock just on the road happy as it should be with no people around. I witnessed with my own eyes that the macaque had started heading back to its natural habitat and looking for food on its own just the way it should make its living.
I had cycled to my favourite spot - the Nandi hills and was surprised not to see a single macaque on the streets like the way you see now on the weekend especially. The weekend is a busy day at work for them I suppose. I had travelled during the times of COVID to tend to the needs of people, provide ratio kits, or serve food. While the COVID became new normal with less or no restriction to travel and work the new normal I wanted to see the Lion Tailed macaque in the heart of the rain forest - Agumbe. I had seen my elder brother and others taking photographs and sharing talks about how they looked, listening to them was a fantasy for me to look at them. I remember seeing the photos of the Lion Tailed macaque, I was now waiting to see them for myself and capture a few photographs. We decided to travel.
My companions were Raj and a dear friend of ours Prerani. We decided to explore the Western Ghats as we drove past the Ghats of Agumbe our eyes rolled out in curiosity in search of species here in the beautiful landscape. Raj was hopeful to sight the serpent king anytime in his land - the King Cobra and I was just curious to see the macaque which I had heard was common for the visitors. Every corner had an amazing view and left us more curious about what we were looking for and in no time we were out of the Ghats. We had our stay booked at JLR Seethanadi and we decided to stop for a break and head out to the camp.
As we got out of the car and stepped inside the hotel we had a few of them surrounding us as I held the camera and Raj with the binoculars, people started asking what we saw in curiosity and asked us to show images and we only said we were not lucky to come across anything but just the beautiful land thriving. The person at the cash counter was quick to observe our conversation and as people left us with disappointment he added all the animals had gone back to the wild and said no one had seen the Singalika (LTM in Kannada) in a while after the lockdown. We were now at the nature camp and wanted to see some beautiful colors of birds, bees, butterflies, frogs, and snakes. We had an opportunity also to inaugurate a new tented stay earlier in the day where we stayed. Raj kept asking every person in the camp if they had seen the King cobra and few shared their experience of sight of it hunting down the rat snake leaving her awestruck. A naturalist also showed a video of a King cobra very close to where we stayed and we became a bit cautious not the fear of its presence but to notice one in the wild. Prerani was new to all of these and she was wondering what we were up to and was quick to learn a few names of the bird which flew past our tents and become curious to see what we were looking for.
I went on to investigate with people whom I met asking if they have seen the LTM in the region and a common answer popped out stating that they were common in the area and found along the roads beside the Ghats and after lockdown, no one had seen them. Well, my learning was hidden there LTM or the common macaque came to the street looking for easy food fed by humans, and when they were not there they just disappeared sourcing the food on their own in the wild. We were lucky to spot a few specimens in the wild like the Malabar Trogon – I call it the painted crow, Grey-Headed Fish Eagle, a Rat snake just slithering around for a while, green colored frog to our fortune & we did go back to the Ghats to catch up the best sunset views in the world at the Agumbe with the same amount of curiosity and the only sighting were the human beings who had gathered for the sunset. The show was called off by the mist that surrounded us in no time and it only added more to our disappointment.
After a while, it was the new normal that surrounded us with time, Raj and I decided to take on the cycleway for the recce of our flagship event "Tour for Friends". We hit the same road that we had traversed once in a car and now wanted & willing to explore on a bicycle. Little did we expect of seeing anything but enjoy the view that’s promising around every corner. The fresh winter breeze, and the thick mist air as we hit the Ghats gave us chills we were just passing through the Ghats and I witnessed the LTM in a while. The one sight I was wishing and hoping for. There, right before me, was the gang of LTMs. I shouted Raaaajjjjj!!! In all the happiness and we shared a glimpse of what I just saw. She was just 200mts away and returned to the point where I had stopped to watch them and we were happy to see them in good numbers and busy looking for a passer-by who would stop by and offer them something to eat which was disappointing for us. I was quick to get my hands on the camera from my cycle pannier and clicked a few shots as they shifted their place. As we stood there to watch them on the busy Ghats, we saw them shift place as the vehicle stopped in other directions, Raj saw it puke (a sign of indigestion). We were delighted in the end to sight the LTM but what we were clear in our learning was the humans around had an impact on the well-being of animals and their behaviour. The macaque had come back to roads in search of easy food, which would have tasted good.
But little did they know what would happen to them internally as they lack the brain development which we humans have making us the apex predators on the planet. But off late, human beings have lost their ability to think and act proving a rational regression. The intention of everyone who stopped by to feed had his/her own belief; over the years whenever I’ve seen someone feeding the wildlife I have had the time to stop by and talk to them making them understand how and where have they picked up the habit. Most of them said they followed the misadventure of their favourite celebrity; few followed the priest while the majority followed the heart to help the animal without the right awareness that it would only harm them. The Macaque which is shy by nature is now bold to loot without our notice.
About the LTM: The primate is endemic to small rainforests of the Western Ghats in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu (We’ve seen them in Ooty & Valpari), are ‘endangered’ category in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
LTM population is close to the tigers in the wild with around 4,000+ individuals consisting of less than 2,500 mature individuals as per the research and what should concern all of us is that this special species is expected to lose over 20% in the next 25 years due to varied reasons including direct actions of human feeding, hunting, road kills and habitat loss.
Here is what you should know before you feed the wildlife:
1. Easy access to human food in any form will lead to spending minimal time searching for food (foraging) which has resulted in extended time taken for resting.
2. The increased resting time is possibly due to more time for the digestion of human foods.
3. Shy by nature has turned into aggression – mostly observed among male species in human-modified areas.
4. While they come out to look for access to human food they expose themselves to the dangers of road kill - because roads are filled with idiots too.
Remember our action counts.
In trust & hope for the wildlife thrives as we remain.