Monkeys and apes
These young orphaned orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) in the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sabah, Borneo, love to be driven in a wheelbarrow into the rainforest, where they learn to climb trees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A red-bellied spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi ssp. frontatus), also called black-browed spider monkey, feeding on coffee-like fruits, Tortuguero National Park, Limón, Costa Rica. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This young long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis) at Angkor Thom, Cambodia, is hanging upside down in a branch, before letting go and dropping headlong into a pond below. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Two northern plains langurs (Semnopithecus entellus), outlined against the light, Ranthambhor National Park, Rajasthan, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A young Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus), living on the Rock of Gibraltar, southern Spain, seems to ask his friend, “Have you found something interesting?” (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
”We are monkeys with money and guns.”
– Tom Waits (born 1949), American singer, musician, composer, songwriter, and actor
Monkeys are our nearest relatives – in fact, scientifically speaking, we are a species of ape, so it is quite true, what Tom Waits says.
The main source used on this page is the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: iucnredlist.org.
The chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), the bonobo (Pan paniscus), the orangutans (Pongo), and the gorillas (Gorilla) are all apes, belonging to the family Pongidae. The chimpanzee and the bonobo are our nearest relatives – in fact, we are so closely related to them that we should belong to the same genus. As humans were described scientifically before the chimpanzee and the bonobo, they ought to be renamed Homo troglodytes and Homo paniscus, respectively!
All species of apes have been declining drastically in the last hundred years due to poaching, infectious diseases, and loss of habitat, caused by expanding human activities. Although conservation efforts have increased significantly in recent years, it is assumed that this decline will continue, due to the rapid growth of human populations, felling of forests, lack of law enforcement due to corruption, and political instability in some countries. Some animals are still caught for zoos, and many are shot for the commercial bushmeat trade in certain African countries.
Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes)
Four subspecies of the chimpanzee have a discontinuous distribution from southern Senegal eastwards across the forested belt north of the Congo River, to the extreme western Tanzania and Uganda. They live in various types of forest, along rivers in savanna woodland, and sometimes in farmland, from the lowland up to app. 2,800 m altitude. Today, the total population is probably less than 400,000 individuals.
South of the Congo River, the chimpanzee is replaced by its near relative, the bonobo (Pan paniscus).
The chimpanzees, which live in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania, were made famous by celebrated primatologist Jane Goodall (born 1934) – the first person to study these apes in depth.
This picture shows a large male in Gombe Stream National Park, named Everett, photographed in 1989. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Formerly, orangutans were regarded as a single species, Pongo pygmaeus, which was confined to rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo. Lately, however, it has been split into three separate species. The Bornean orangutan (P. pygmaeus), comprising 3 subspecies, is still widespread in Borneo, whereas the Sumatran orangutan (P. abelii) is restricted to northern Sumatra, primarily the Aceh Province. The Tapanuli orangutan (P. tapanuliensis), which lives in an area of just 1,500 km2 in Batang Toru, south of Lake Toba, Sumatra, was described as a distinct species as late as 2017. They all live in lowland rainforest, rarely found above 500 m altitude, the Sumatran orangutan occasionally up to c. 1,500 m.
All three species are seriously endangered due to habitat destruction and fragmentation, and illegal poaching for zoos. It has been estimated that the population of the Bornean orangutan in 1973 was about 300,000 individuals, and it is assumed that this number will decline to c. 50,000 by 2025. The Sumatran orangutan has an estimated population of fewer than 14,000, and it is predicted that this number will decline by 80% by 2060. The population of Tapanuli orangutan is fewer than 800, and this number is still decreasing.
In 1985, I visited the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah, Borneo. This centre is home to a number of orphaned orangutans, which were confiscated from poachers, who shot their mothers to get hold of the young. This centre, where the young ones are trained to a life in the wild, is presented in depth on the page Travel episodes – Borneo 1985: Visiting orangutans.
At the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, orphaned orangutans are trained to a life in the wild. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Lacking a mother, the orphaned young often become much attached to one another. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
An adult male, now living in a semi-wild state near the centre. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This orangutan in Chengdu Zoo, Sichuan Province, China, is trying to get something outside its cage. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
There is an interesting story behind the name gorilla. The famous Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484-425 B.C.) relates travels, made by sea-faring Phoenicians of Carthage, among these an expedition along the west coast of Africa c. 500 B.C., led by Hanno the Navigator. In an area, which is today Sierra Leone, members of this expedition encountered “savage people, the greater part of whom were women, whose bodies were hairy, and whom our interpreters called gorillae.”
This word was later used by American physician and missionary Thomas Staughton Savage (1804-1880) and naturalist Jeffries Wyman (1814-1874), when they described the gorilla in 1847, calling it Troglodytes gorilla. (Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorilla)
Previously, gorillas were regarded as belonging to a single species, Gorilla gorilla, but they have since been divided into two species, the western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla), with two subspecies, the lowland gorilla (gorilla) and the Cross River gorilla (diehli), and the eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei), likewise with two subspecies, the mountain gorilla (beringei) and Grauer’s gorilla (graueri).
The western gorilla is found in Cameroun, Central African Republic, Gabon, and the Republic of Congo, with tiny populations in eastern Nigeria and northern Angola. The population of subspecies gorilla is probably around 250,000 individuals, whereas subspecies diehli is seriously endangered, counting only about 300 individuals. The population reduction of this species, in its widest sense, is predicted to exceed 80% by 2070, due to illegal hunting, disease (Ebola virus), and habitat loss.
The eastern gorilla lives in montane forests of eastern Zaire, north-western Rwanda, and south-western Uganda. This region has been subject to war and civil war for many decades, during which gorillas also fell victim. Subspecies beringei, which counts only about 900 individuals, is the only great ape that has increased in number lately, whereas subspecies graueri has been severely affected by human activities, most notably poaching for commercial trade of bushmeat. This illegal hunting has been facilitated by a proliferation of firearms from the various wars of this region. Previously estimated to number around 17,000 individuals, recent surveys show that Grauer’s Gorilla numbers have dropped to only about 3,800 individuals.
Resting female mountain gorillas, Bwindi National Park, Uganda. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This young mountain gorilla is approaching us to investigate. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Old World monkeys
Langurs are a group of leaf-eating monkeys within the family Cercopithecidae, comprising 8 genera with about 40 extant species. Three genera are dealt with here, Semnopithecus (true langurs), Trachypithecus (lutungs), and Pygathrix (douc langurs).
The generic name is from the Greek semnos (‘sacred’) and pithekos (‘monkey’), alluding to the sanctity of monkeys to Hindus. (See chapter at the bottom of this page, Hanuman, the monkey god.)
In the past, all grey langurs on the Indian Subcontinent were regarded as belonging to a single species, Semnopithecus entellus, which was divided into six subspecies. However, recent morphological studies, combined with DNA-analyses, have revealed that the grey langurs should be regarded as six full species: northern plains langur (S. entellus), terai langur (S. hector), Nepal langur (S. schistaceus), Kashmir langur (S. ajax), black-footed langur (S. hypoleucos), and tufted langur (S. priam).
Today, most authorities consider all langurs on the Indian Subcontinent as belonging to the genus Semnopithecus. Formerly, two species, the Nilgiri langur (S. johnii) of south-western India, and the purple-faced langur (S. vetulus) of Sri Lanka, were regarded as members of the otherwise Southeast Asian genus Trachypithecus.
Northern plains langur (Semnopithecus entellus)
This species is widespread in northern, central, and south-central India, from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal southwards to Telangana and northern Karnataka and Kerala, with a small population in western Bangladesh, which probably originated from a single pair, introduced by Hindu pilgrims on the bank of the Jalangi River.
Northern plains langur is quite common, living in a variety of habitats, including forests, scrubland, temple groves, gardens, and towns, up to an altitude of c. 1,700 m. It is locally threatened by habitat loss due to intensified agriculture and fires, and by hunting for food by newly settled people in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.
Previously, western and southern populations of this species were regarded as a separate species, the southern plains langur (S. dussumieri), but recent genetic research has declared this species invalid.
Troop of northern plains langurs, resting on a rock outside the sacred Udayagiri Caves, near Bhubaneswar, Odisha (Orissa). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This female outside the Udayagiri Caves has a tiny young. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Pseudo-mating young northern plains langurs, Sariska National Park, Rajasthan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The picture below shows northern plains langurs, sitting on a roof top in the town of Pushkar, Rajasthan, India, from where they, like a bunch of street urchins, survey the surroundings for fruit or other edibles to steal. Their status as sacred animals ensure that they are not harmed, despite their impudence.
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A Hindu legend relates that a young man named Narad Muni went to participate in a Swayamwara, during which young girls can choose a husband. This young man was very proud of himself and was convinced that he was the most handsome among the men. However, as the day came to an end, he went away heartbroken, because none of the young girls had chosen him. On his way home, he got thirsty, so he went to a waterhole to quench his thirst. His reflection in the water told him that he now had a monkey’s head.
Northern plains langurs, quenching their thirst in a waterhole, Sariska National Park. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Terai langur (Semnopithecus hector)
This species is found in the Himalayan foothills, up to an altitude of c. 1,600 m, from Uttarakhand eastwards to south-western Bhutan. It mainly lives in forests, occasionally feeding in orchards and fields with crops. Its fur is thicker than that of the northern plains langur, but not as rich as that of the Nepal langur (S. schistaceus, see below).
The total number of terai langurs is probably only about 10,000 mature individuals, and the population is slowly declining, mainly due to habitat loss.
On an excursion with my Indian friend Ajai Saxena to the area around Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, we had company of a couple of terai langurs, which took their seat on the roof of our car. Presumably, many car drivers feed these monkeys, but as we oppose the habit of feeding wild animals, we didn’t give them anything, and shortly after they disappeared, jumping into the trees.
(Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Nepal langur (Semnopithecus schistaceus)
The Nepal langur is easily identified by its luxurious, pale grey fur and the large white ruff around its jet-black face. This species, which is also called pale-armed langur, has a wide distribution at mid-elevations in the Himalaya, mostly between 1,500 and 3,500 m, but occasionally up to 4,000 m. It is found from Pakistan through India and Nepal to Bhutan and extreme south-eastern Tibet. This monkey mainly lives in lush monsoon forests, occasionally found in scrubland and agricultural areas. It is quite common, and the population is fairly stable. Threats include habitat loss through logging, fire, and human encroachment, and it is hunted in Tibet for usage in traditional medicine.
These Nepal langurs were photographed near Lake Dodi Tal, Asi Ganga Valley, Uttarakhand. The one in the lower picture is feeding on buds and flowers of Viburnum grandiflorum. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Troop of Nepal langurs, eating soil to obtain minerals, Banthanti, Annapurna, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Black-footed langur (Semnopithecus hypoleucos)
As its name implies, the black-footed langur has jet-black hands and feet, contrasting sharply with its grey arms and legs. It occurs in the West Ghats of south-western India, from Goa southwards through Karnataka to Kerala. In some areas, it is seriously threatened by hunting, and it has already been extirpated from parts of the Brahmagiri Hills in Kodagu District, Karnataka.
Some authorities believe that the black-footed langur is a natural hybrid between the northern plains langur and the Nilgiri langur (S. johnii, see below), whereas others regard it as a subspecies of the former.
This black-footed langur in Anshi National Park, Karnataka, is busy scratching itself. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This one is climbing up a dead bamboo stem, from which it jumps onto another one, Anshi National Park. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Black-footed langur, eating flower buds of a silk-cotton tree (Bombax ceiba), Honnavar Forest, Karnataka. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tufted langur (Semnopithecus priam)
Two subspecies of the tufted langur are recognized, priam and thersites. Genetic research indicates that there are consistent differences between the two taxa, and maybe they will be split into two separate species in the future.
Subspecies priam occurs in several disjunct populations from the southern shores of the Krishna River, Andhra Pradesh, southwards to the city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, whereas subspecies thersites is distributed in the dry zone of Sri Lanka, and in parts of the West Ghats in India. The affinity of some South Indian populations is not known, as they have been very poorly researched. The tufted langur lives in forests, temple groves, gardens, and cultivated areas, in India up to c. 1,200 m altitude, and in Sri Lanka up to c. 500 m.
Indian tufted langur, ssp. priam, running full speed along a road, Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sri Lanka tufted langur, ssp. thersites, Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Nilgiri langur (Semnopithecus johnii)
This langur is jet-black, with pale-brown fur on the crown and on the ruff around its face. It is restricted to the West Ghats of south-western India, in Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, where it lives in forests between 300 and 2,000 m altitude. Formerly, it was threatened by habitat loss due to mining, dams, and human settlement, and by hunting, but the latter has decreased in recent years due to better protection, and after the introduction of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act in 1972, the population has increased. Since the 1990s, it has been relatively stable, counting around 20,000 individuals.
Previously, the Nilgiri langur was placed in the genus Trachypithecus, which is mainly found in Southeast Asia, but following genetic research it was transferred to Semnopithevus.
Nilgiri langur, Eravikulam National Park, Kerala. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A troop of Nilgiri langurs gathered in a tree, eating leaf buds, Periyar National Park, Kerala. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Purple-faced langur (Semnopithecus vetulus)
Four subspecies of this langur are recognized, all restricted to Sri Lanka. Subspecies vetulus lives in an area of less than 5,000 km2 of rainforest in south-western Sri Lanka, up to an altitude of c. 1,000 m. Where its natural habitat has been destroyed, it may live in gardens and plantations, but these habitats offer no long-term survival prospects for it. Subspecies nestor lives in a similar habitat, further north than vetulus, whereas philbricki is found in moister forests of the dry zone. Subspecies monticola is restricted to the montane forests of central Sri Lanka, between 1,000 and 2,200 m altitude.
All four subspecies are endangered, as they are believed to have undergone a decline of more than 50% in the last 40 years due to habitat loss and hunting.
Like the Nilgiri langur, the purple-faced langur was formerly placed in the genus Trachypithecus, but has likewise been moved to Semnopithecus.
Portrait of a captive lowland purple-faced langur, of subspecies vetulus or nestor. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The dry-zone subspecies of the purple-faced langur, philbricki, is found in forests of moister areas of the dry zone of Sri Lanka. This picture is from Polonnaruwa. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This name is derived from the Greek trach (‘rough’), referring to the dense fur of some species in this genus, and pithekos (‘monkey’). This genus, encompassing 15 species of langurs, which are often called lutungs, is distributed from Bhutan and north-eastern India eastwards to the southernmost parts of China, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to the Indonesian islands Java, Bali, and Lombok.
Golden langur (Trachypithecus geei)
This species occurs only in Bhutan and adjacent parts of Assam, north-eastern India, living in forests along the foothills of the Himalaya up to about 3,000 m altitude, between the rivers Manas in the east and Sankosh in the west.
The total known range of this langur is less than 30,000 km2, and much of it is not suitable habitat. The estimated population is less than 1,200 individuals in India and around 4,000 in Bhutan. It has declined by more than 30% in the last 30 years and is expected to decline further due to habitat loss. The population in India is highly fragmented, with the southern population completely separated from northern populations due to the effects of human activities.
The golden langur was described as late as 1956, but was known much earlier by naturalists, the earliest record being by R.B. Pemberton in a paper from 1838, Report on Bootan Indian Studies Past and Present. However, his work was lost and not rediscovered until the 1970s, and the golden langur was not mentioned again until 1907, when E.O. Shebbeare reported seeing a ’cream-coloured langur’ in the vicinity of Jamduar.
In 1919, a publication stated that a pale yellow-coloured langur was common in a district near Goalpara in Assam, and in 1947, C. G. Baron wrote: ”I saw some white monkeys (…) and, as far as I know, they are an undescribed species. Their entire body and tail are of the same colour – pale silver-golden, not unlike a blonde.”
A number of other sightings roused the interest of celebrated naturalist Edward Pritchard Gee (1904-1968), who observed and photographed three troops of golden langurs in 1953. He reported his results to the Zoological Survey of India, and in 1955 six specimens were collected. The species was described by Dr. H. Khajuria, who named it Presbystis gee, in honour of Mr. Gee. (Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gee%27s_golden_langur)
The population of golden langur in Manas National Park, Assam, is threatened by hybridization with a close relative, the capped langur (Trachypithecus pileatus). Formerly, these two species were separated by rivers, but a number of constructed bridges has now made it easy for them to cross these rivers.
Golden langurs, Manas National Park, Assam. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Vietnam is home to 7 or 8 species of Trachypithecus langurs, all of which are severely threatened in the wild, mainly due to habitat loss and hunting.
Delacour’s langur (Trachypithecus delacouri)
This species, which is endemic to northern Vietnam, is popularly called white-shorts langur, alluding to its characteristic white rear body. This species was named in honour of French-American ornithologist Jean Théodore Delacour (1890-1985).
Delacour’s langur is critically endangered, primarily threatened by hunting for traditional medicine, but also by loss of habitat. As of 2010, less than 250 individuals were believed to remain in the wild.
Delacour’s langurs, photographed in Van Long Nature Reserve. The population in this reserve may be the only one in Vietnam still large enough to remain viable. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Javan lutung (Trachypithecus auratus)
This langur is endemic to Indonesia, where it occurs on Java, Bali and Lombok, and some smaller nearby islands. It lives in mangrove and forests, up to an altitude of 3,500 m. This species is threatened by habitat loss due to expanding agriculture and human settlements, and by hunting for food. Many are also captured for the pet trade.
This Javan lutung is for sale at a market in the city of Yogyakarta, Java. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Three species in this genus, which are called douc langurs, are native to Southeast Asia. They are all highly threatened in the wild.
Red-shanked douc (Pygathrix nemaeus)
This species, which is native to Vietnam, southern Laos and maybe north-eastern Cambodia, lives in primary and secondary rainforest, from the lowland up to c. 2,000 m altitude. It is almost strictly arboreal, but may occasionally come down to drink or to eat soil with minerals.
The red-shanked douc is endangered. The total number is unknown, but it is believed that c. 1,300 individuals live in the Son Tra area in Vietnam. The species is threatened by hunting for food and traditional medicine, and by habitat loss.
Red-shanked doucs in a breeding centre for threatened primates, Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The number of species in this genus has been growing steadily in later years. Recently, two new species have been described, the Arunachal macaque (M. munzala) in north-eastern India in 2004, and the white-cheeked macaque (M. leucogenys) in south-eastern Tibet in 2015. At present, the number of species is 23.
The name Macaca stems from the word makaku, plural of kaku, a West African Bantu name for a species of mangabey. In Portuguese, makaku became macaco, and in French macaque, the latter adopted by the British. In 1798, French taxonomist Bernard Germain de Lacépède (1756-1825) applied this word of African origin, in the form Macaca, to an almost exclusively Asian group of monkeys, presumably because he was familiar with the Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus) – the only species of the group outside Asia, living in north-western Africa and on the Rock of Gibraltar, southern Spain. (Source: itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003458.html)
Long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis)
Among the macaques, this species, which is also called crab-eating macaque, is the most widespread, found from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam southwards to the Indonesian Archipelago, and thence eastwards to the Philippines.
The long-tailed macaque lives in a wide range of habitats, including mangrove, forests, agricultural areas near forest, and temple groves. In the Philippines, it is found at elevations up to 1,800 m, in Indonesia up to 1,000 m, and in Thailand up to 700 m, whereas in Cambodia and Vietnam it generally occurs below 300 m. In the Philippines, some populations are threatened by hunting.
It is rather puzzling, why Sir Thomas Raffles (1781-1826), Lieutenant-Governor of British Java 1811-1815, and Governor-General of Bencoolen (on Sumatra) 1817-1822, applied the specific name fascicularis (‘with a small band or stripe’) to this species, as it does not have any stripes.
The following pictures are all from the so-called ‘Monkey Forest’ in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, a forested area around the Hindu temple Wenara Wana, which is home to several troops of these monkeys.
King of the ‘Monkey Forest’. – Resting on a wall, this large male long-tailed macaque is scratching his tail. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Female long-tailed macaques are loving mothers. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Female, grooming a male – whereupon he mounts her. She seems to dislike it. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This young monkey is stuffing its mouth with bananas. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Female, grooming another female. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Females, dozing on a wall. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young at play. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Macaques start climbing at a very young age. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Most macaques love swimming. This one seems to tell me, “This is nice! You should try!” (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In the picture below, a young long-tailed macaque is sitting on a sculpture, depicting – a long-tailed macaque. Other pictures, showing sculptures depicting this species, may be studied on the page Culture: Folk art around the world.
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The macaques in ‘Monkey Forest’ are indeed used to tourists. The sculpture in the background in the upper picture below depicts Varaha, one of the supreme Hindu god Vishnu’s avatars (incarnations), a gigantic boar, who kills the terrible demon Hiranyaksha.
Vishnu and other Hindu deities are presented in depth on the page Religion: Hinduism.
(Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta)
The well-known brown monkey of India, in Hindi called bandar, is found almost everywhere in the country north of the rivers Tapti in Gujarat and Godavari in Maharashtra. The total distribution area of this species is from Afghanistan eastwards through Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos to Vietnam, and thence northwards to central China.
The rhesus monkey has become well-known through its usage in medical research, which detected the rhesus factor, an inherited antigen in the blood of humans. Its fur is mainly brown, with an orange tinge on the hind parts, and the tail is rather short, 20-30 cm. This monkey lives in very diverse habitats, from semi-desert via various forest types to temple groves and cities, from the lowland up to c. 2,500 m altitude.
Following a strong decline due to felling of forest, combined with export of many animals for medical research, the rhesus monkey is now expanding in India, with an estimated population of 500,000 individuals, or more. This expansion is mainly due to the fact that it has adapted to a life in cities.
The size of a territory of a typical troop of rhesus monkeys has been measured at up to 16 km2 in montane forest, and 1-3 km2 in other types of forest, whereas in Kolkata, a troop of 62 individuals was studied, thriving successfully in an area of less than 4 hectares, in the centre of this metropolis.
In some areas, especially in Laos and Vietnam, the species is hunted for food, and habitat destruction has also affected populations locally in Southeast Asia.
Due to the great deeds, performed by the monkey army in the great Hindu epic Ramayana (see caption Hanuman, the monkey god, at the bottom of this page), monkeys are regarded as sacred animals among Hindus, and troops of monkeys often live around temples, where part of their diet consists of rice, sweets, or other edibles, brought as offerings by devout Hindus.
One such temple is the great Buddhist stupa Swayambhunath in Kathmandu, Nepal – a Buddhist stupa, which also contains Hindu shrines. Several troops of rhesus monkeys live in the forest around this stupa.
This female and her young are feeding on rice grain, presented as offerings at Swayambhunath. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Female rhesus monkeys are affectionate mothers. – Swayambhunath. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young rhesus monkey, riding on its mother’s back, Swayambhunath. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This monkey at Swayambhunath is crossing from one building to another by walking upside-down along an electric wire. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
One day, when I had visited the Swayambhunath Stupa, I was descending the staircase, when I heard a strange sound behind me. Turning around, I saw an empty Tuborg beer can come tumbling down the stairs, pass me, and come to a stop just in front of a rhesus monkey. The monkey grabbed the can, sniffed it, and then quickly dropped it, baring its teeth as if to say, “This stuff is not for me!”
(Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Buddhist temple atop Mount Popa, Myanmar, is also home to a troop of rhesus monkeys. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young rhesus monkey, eating acacia leaves, Mount Popa. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This young rhesus monkey is gnawing on a discarded banana peel, Ganges River, Varanasi, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These females are enjoying the evening sun in Sariska National Park, Rajasthan, India. The one in front is suckling its young. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In India, the rhesus monkey has readily adapted to a life in cities. The following four pictures show such urban monkeys.
Mother and young on a wall near the Ganges River, Varanasi. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rhesus monkey, walking along a narrow wall, which surrounds the Hawa Mahal Palace, Jaipur, Rajasthan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This monkey jumps from one wall to another in Varanasi. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Clinging to a clothes-line, this rhesus monkey is looking through a window, Varanasi. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bonnet macaque (Macaca radiata)
This macaque is restricted to the southern half of India, replacing the rhesus monkey south of the Tapti and Godavari Rivers. It is a little smaller than the rhesus monkey, its fur being greyish-brown, paler on the belly. It has an extremely long tail, longer than the body. On its crown is a cowlick, resembling a bonnet.
This species is very common, locally abundant, living in all forest types, scrubland, plantations, agricultural lands, and urban areas. It is usually found below 2,000 m altitude, occasionally up to 2,600 m. As it often feeds in agricultural areas, conflicts with humans is an increasing problem. It is locally hunted, and many are caught for research, as well as for street performing (see caption Monkeys and culture, further down on this page).
Whereas the temple monkeys in northern India are mainly rhesus monkeys, this role is taken over by bonnet macaques in southern Indian temples. As food is always plentiful, the monkeys don’t have to move much around, and they often become obese.
An extremely well-fed bonnet macaque, observed in the Sri Minakshi Temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Many bonnet macaques live around the famous Hindu cave temples in the city of Badami, Karnataka. In this picture, several females and a young huddle together to keep warm in the morning cold. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young bonnet macaque, enjoying the evening sun, Badami. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This bonnet macaque is crossing a heavily trafficked road in Badami by balancing on an electric wire, using its long tail as counter-balance. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Male bonnet macaque, resting in a growth of bamboo, Periyar National Park, Kerala. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Like most other macaques, bonnet macaques love bathing, as these young ones in the Theppakadu River, Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Along many roads and around temples, bonnet macaques are very confiding. This one is watching its own reflection in a car window, Azhiyar Ghat, Tamil Nadu. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Toque macaque (Macaca sinica)
This reddish-brown monkey resembles the bonnet macaque, but the cowlick is further forward on its crown. It is restricted to Sri Lanka, where three subspecies are recognized, sinica in the dry zone of the eastern and northern parts of the island, aurifrons in the south-western lowland rainforest zone, and opisthomelas in the central highland wet zone.
In its widest sense, this species lives in a variety of forest types, from sea level up to about 2,100 m. The distribution areas of all three subspecies are very fragmented, and opisthomelas is restricted to an area of less than 500 km2, with only a fifth of this area actually occupied by the animals. The chief threat to this species is habitat loss due to establishment of plantations and agricultural lands. Many are shot, as they are doing considerable damage to crops.
The toque macaque is still widely distributed, but the population may have declined by more than 50% since 1975.
The dry-zone race of the toque macaque, sinica, is found in the eastern and northern parts of Sri Lanka. This one was photographed at Polonnaruwa. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This young toque macaque at Polonnaruwa is drinking by dipping its hand into a puddle inside a hollow tree trunk, whereupon it licks its hand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Subspecies aurifrons is distributed in the south-western lowland rainforest zone. This one was observed in Sinharaja Forest Reserve. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus)
This macaque is unique, as both male and female have a huge greyish mane around the head, which has given rise to its German name, Bartaffe (‘bearded monkey’). Apart from the mane, the fur is jet-black. The English name stems from another characteristic of this animal: the tuft at the end of the tail.
The lion-tailed macaque is endemic to rainforests of the West Ghats, south-western India, in the states of Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. Although it is distributed in a huge area, the factual area of occupancy is small, as its habitat has been severely fragmented due to establishment of agricultural areas and plantations of tea, coffee, cardamom, and eucalyptus.
The total population of this animal is estimated at less than 4,000 individuals, made up of 47 isolated sub-populations. In one location, the Kodagu District, Karnataka, the species is highly threatened by hunting for food. In later years, the population seems to have become stabilized due to better protection measures.
The pictures below are all from the Puthutottam Forest, Tamil Nadu, where a troop of lion-tailed macaques have become accustomed to people, as they are often being fed by tourists.
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Male, scratching his head. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This male is baring his huge canines, but he is probably just yawning, as this species is not at all aggressive towards people. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This lion-tailed macaque is lying on the road, eating tiny pebbles, which make loud crunching noises between its teeth! (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus)
This species is very characteristic, as it has no tail. It is the only surviving primate in Africa north of the Sahara Desert. In former times, it was widely distributed in south-western Europe and in north-western Africa, eastwards to Libya, but today it is restricted to small relict populations in Morocco and Algeria, where it occurs from sea level to c. 2,600 m altitude, mainly above 1,000 m. It prefers cedar forests, but is also found in oak forests, coastal scrub, and overgrazed rocky slopes with sparse vegetation.
Recently, the Moroccan population was estimated at 6,000 to 10,000 individuals, whereas in 1975 it was about 17,000. In Algeria, around 1980, the population was estimated at 5,500, but the present number is unknown. The total population may have declined by more than 50% since 1980, and the decline is expected to continue. All areas occupied by the Barbary macaque are under growing pressure from human activities.
There is also a small population of about 300 animals on the Rock of Gibraltar, southern Spain, which may, at least in part, be a remnant of the former European population. Historical sources, however, mention repeated release of African animals on the rock.
In his work from about 1610, Historia de la Muy Noble y Más Leal Ciudad de Gibraltar (’History of the Very Noble and Most Loyal City of Gibraltar’), Alonso Hernández del Portillo writes, “But now let us speak of other and living producers, which in spite of the asperity of the rock still maintain themselves in the mountain; there are monkeys, who may be called the true owners, with possession from time immemorial, always tenacious of the dominion, living for the most part on the eastern side in high and inaccessible chasms.” (Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbary_macaques_in_Gibraltar)
Barbary macaque, sleeping on a wall atop the Gibraltar Rock. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Female with young, Gibraltar. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tourists used to feed the macaques on Gibraltar, but today this activity is strictly forbidden. However, the monkeys are still very tame, as this young one, pulling a boy’s ear. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Pig-tailed macaques are named after their short tail, which is often curved, resembling the curl on a pig’s tail. Formerly, all pig-tailed macaques were regarded as a single species, Macaca nemestrina, but have now been split into two species, the southern, M. nemestrina, which is found on the Malacca Peninsula, and on Sumatra and Borneo, and the northern, M. leonina, which lives in Southeast Asia, from eastern Bangladesh southwards to the northern tip of the Malacca Peninsula, where its distribution overlaps with that of the southern species. Why they have been split, is a bit of a mystery to me, as they interbreed in the overlapping area.
Southern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina)
This animal, which is also called Sunda pig-tailed macaque, is common in some places, but generally its numbers have decreased significantly due to habitat loss through logging and establishment of agricultural areas and oil palm plantations. It is frequently shot as a crop pest.
This man of the Minangkabau people, living in Maninjau, Sumatra, Indonesia, has trained a southern pig-tailed macaque to bring down coconuts from the trees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Taiwan macaque (Macaca cyclopis)
As its name implies, this monkey is endemic to Taiwan, where it is quite common. It mainly lives in various primary forest types, but may also be found in secondary forest, from where it enters agricultural areas, and even towns, in search of food. It is quite a nuisance in some areas, but is not harmed, partly because it is protected by law, partly because of the widespread Buddhist conception that you should not kill animals.
Taiwan macaque occurs from sea level to c. 3,600 m altitude, but is most common between 1,000 and 1,500 m. There are no major threats to the species.
The fur of the Taiwan macaque is pale grey with a brownish tinge here and there. This large male is resting on a rock along a trail in the Bagua Shan Mountains. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Female, grooming its young, Bagua Shan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A troop of Taiwan macaques, Sheding Nature Trail, Kenting National Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This young Taiwan macaque is feeding on leaves, Tacijili River, Taroko Gorge. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This one is clinging to a rock face near Tataja, Yushan National Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In many places, people feed Taiwan macaques, which has caused them to lose their fear of humans. This male in Yangminshan National Park doesn’t even bother to give way to a passing motorcyclist. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Baboons, of the family Cercopithecidae, are native to Africa and south-western Arabia. They have long, dog-like muzzles, close-set eyes, and powerful jaws with huge canine teeth. The baboons proper, comprising six species, belong to the genus Papio. Formerly, three other species were included in Papio, but have since been moved to other genera, the gelada baboon (Theropithecus gelada), the mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx), and the drill (M. leucophaeus).
True baboons (Papio)
Some authorities claim that the six Papio species constitute a single species, as they often interbreed in overlapping areas of distribution.
The Guinea baboon (Papio papio) is found in a rather small area, from southern Mauritania southwards to Guinea.
The hamadryas baboon (P. hamadryas) lives around the African Horn, in Ethiopia, and in south-western Arabia.
The olive baboon (P. anubis) is widespread (see below).
The yellow baboon (P. cynocephalus) lives in eastern and southern Africa (see below).
The Kinda baboon (P. kindae) occurs in south-western Tanzania, southern Zaire, western Zambia, and northern Angola.
The chacma baboon (P. ursinus) is found in southern Africa (see below).
Olive baboon (Papio anubis)
This species is named for its coat, which is grey with an olive tinge to it. It is the most widespread baboon, ranging throughout woodland and savanna from southern Mauritania and Mali eastwards to the Sudan, and thence southwards to Zaire and Tanzania. There are also isolated populations in the Tibesti and Air Massifs in the Sahara.
The olive baboon is also called Anubis baboon, alluding to the Egyptian god of embalming, who had the head of a jackal. Baboons have dog-like muzzles.
This species is very adaptable and is able to survive in secondary forest and cultivated areas. Despite being considered a pest, which is trapped, shot, and poisoned in places, it is still locally common.
In a 200-km wide region in central Kenya, the olive baboon hybridizes with the yellow baboon, often making it difficult to allocate animals to one or the other species.
Olive baboons, resting in an African palmyra palm (Borassus aethiopum), Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This male is basking in the sand on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young baboons, playing in a vine, Gombe Stream National Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young baboon, riding on its mother’s back, Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The male in the picture below is watching a pack of feeding banded mongoose (Mungos mungo) in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. These little carnivores are quite fierce, and the baboon made no attempt to steal their food, although he was clearly interested in it.
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The pictures below show motherhood among olive baboons in Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania. A subordinate female approaches another female with a tiny young, exposing its behind to the mother as a sign of submission, after which it is allowed to touch the baby. Note that the older female’s cheek pouches are filled with food.
(Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Yellow baboon (Papio cynocephalus)
The specific name of this animal is from the Greek kuon (‘dog’) and kephalos (‘head’), like the name Anubis (see olive baboon above) referring to the dog-like muzzle of baboons. Its common name alludes to its grey fur, which has a yellowish tinge to it.
The yellow baboon is found from south-eastern Ethiopia and Somalia southwards to northern Mozambique, and thence across Malawi and Zambia to southern Zaire and northern Angola. Where possible, it prefers to live in Brachystegia woodland (miombo), but is also found in scrubland, savanna, and mangrove, and it is also able to survive in secondary forest and cultivated areas. There are no major threats to the species, although in some places it has been displaced by agriculture. Many are also trapped to be exported for medical research.
Yellow baboon, Mikumi National Park, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Chacma baboon (Papio ursinus)
Encompassing two or three subspecies, the chacma baboon restricted to southern Africa, found from southern Angola and southern Zambia southwards to the Indian Ocean. At present, it is not threatened, but due to the increasing human population, the baboons often feed in agricultural areas, where they do a great deal of damage. Many are shot or trapped, and an increasing number is killed by cars.
This sign in Cape of Good Hope National Park, South Africa, prohibits feeding of baboons. Where they are fed regularly by tourists, baboons often become aggressive and may have to be shot. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Gelada baboon (Theropithecus gelada)
The generic name is from the Greek thero (‘beastly’) and pithekos (‘monkey’), alluding to the rather grotesque appearance of the male of this species. In Greek mythology, Thero was a fierce Naiad, who was the nurse of the infant Ares, who later became god of courage and war, but also of civil order.
The gelada baboon is restricted to high grassland escarpments along deep gorges of central Ethiopia, between 1,800 and 4,400 m altitude. It is still widespread, but was much affected by droughts, which ravaged Ethiopia in the 1980s. From an estimated population of maybe 800,000 individuals, a present guesstimate says c. 200,000. Its habitat is being eroded as a result of agricultural expansion, as an increasing number of people are moving into the central highlands. In some areas, the grazing pressure is high, forcing the geladas to move to less productive grass slopes.
In the Simien Mountains, the gelada baboon is fairly common in some areas, here at Gosh Meda. The male has a huge mane on head and body. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
On the chest, males as well as females have a naked red skin patch, giving rise to an alternative name of the species, bleeding-heart monkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Colobus monkeys are a group of African leaf-eating monkeys, which are also called thumbless monkeys, as their thumb is reduced to a stump. The word colobus is from the Greek kolobós, meaning ‘docked’.
These monkeys are widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, comprising 5 species in the genus Colobus, called black-and-white colobus, 10 species in the genus Piliocolobus, called red colobus, and one species in the genus Procolobus, the olive colobus (P. verus). Most species are restricted to forests, but may occasionally stray into scrubland and plantations.
Eastern black-and-white colobus (Colobus guereza)
This species, comprising 8 subspecies, is also known as mantled guereza, a name alluding to the long fringes of white hair along each side. The tail also has a large white tuft. It is widespread in Africa, found from Cameroun east across southern Chad, Central African Republic, and northern Zaire to Uganda, Kenya, northern Tanzania, and Ethiopia.
In parts of its range, this species is threatened by habitat loss due to lumbering, establishment of plantations, and conversion to agricultural land. Hunting is rampant in some areas of the western part of its range.
In 1988, during a stay in Arusha National Park, northern Tanzania, my companion Thomas Bregnballe and I were camping on a beautiful spot at the foot of Mount Meru, beneath a couple of huge trees, entwined by strangler figs. On our first night here, we were a little alarmed by an unbelievably powerful noise, coming from these trees, sounding like a mixture of some gigantic croaking frog, and a car engine that won’t start. As it turned out, the source of this sound was a troop of Kilimanjaro black-and-white colobus, subspecies caudatus, which used these trees as night roost.
Kilimanjaro black-and-white colobus, ssp. caudatus, Arusha National Park, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Zanzibar red colobus (Piliocolobus kirkii)
As its name implies, this species is restricted to Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania, where it lives in forests on the main island, Unguja. It may occasionally stray into plantations.
The total population is estimated at less than 2,000 individuals, and it is still decreasing due to habitat destruction, caused by timber felling, charcoal production, clearance for cultivation, and fires. Conservationists are working with the local government to devise an effective strategy to protect this species and its habitat.
Portraits of Zanzibar red colobus. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This one is feeding on leaves of beach almond (Terminalia catappa). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Guenons, vervets, and patas monkey
These are all long-tailed African monkeys, belonging to the family Cercopithecidae.
This large group, comprising c. 25 species, is distributed in most of sub-Saharan Africa. They live in evergreen forests, sometimes in secondary forest and scrubland, mainly in the canopy, occasionally coming to the ground. They are dependent on daily access to water.
Blue monkey (Cercopithecus mitis)
Despite its name, this monkey is not really blue, but its grey fur has a bluish tinge to it. In its widest sense, this species, which is also called diademed monkey, comprises 17 subspecies, of which Sykes’ monkey (ssp. albogularis), silver monkey (ssp. doggetti), and golden monkey (ssp. kandti), are sometimes treated as separate species.
These monkeys are widely distributed, from Angola and Zaire eastwards to the Indian Ocean and Zanzibar Island, and from Ethiopia southwards to eastern South Africa, from sea level up to 3,800 m. To some degree, they are threatened by deforestation and habitat fragmentation, and in places by hunting for food and traditional medicine.
Blue monkey, Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania. In the lower picture, it is feeding on swarming termites together with an olive baboon (Papio anubis). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Green monkeys (Chlorocebus)
Previously, these monkeys were included in Cercopithecus, where they were regarded as a single species, the green vervet (Cercopithecus aethiops), which was divided into 6 subspecies. Today, these subspecies are generally regarded as full species, the vervet (Chlorocebus pygerythrus), the grivet (C. aethiops), the green monkey (C. sabaeus), the tantalus monkey (C. tantalus), the Bale Mountains vervet (C. djamdjamensis), and the malbrouck (C. cynosuros), although some authorities still regard them as a single species.
Unlike the guenons, green monkeys spend much time on the ground in the daytime, sleeping in trees at night. They are also dependent on daily access to water.
Vervet (Chlorocebus pygerythrus)
This species is distributed from Ethiopia and southern Somalia southwards through Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, and Botswana to South Africa. It lives mainly in savanna and open woodland, almost always near rivers, but is extremely adaptable and able to survive in cultivated areas, and sometimes in towns. There are no major threats to this species, although many are shot in agricultural areas, where they do damage to crops. It is also hunted as bushmeat in some areas.
Grooming troop of vervet monkeys, Victoria Falls National Park, Zimbabwe. Note the pale blue scrotum of the male. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Patas monkey (Erythrocebus patas)
At present, the patas monkey, which is also called hussar monkey, is the only species in the genus Erythrocebus, but as it is closely related to the green monkeys, further genetic studies may place them in the same genus.
This species is widespread across the Sahel zone of sub-Saharan Africa, from southern Mauritania, Gambia, and Senegal, eastwards to western Ethiopia and northern Zaire, Uganda, and Kenya, with isolated populations elsewhere in Kenya, in northern Tanzania, and on the Air and Ennedi Massifs in the Sahara. It lives in savannas and dry woodland, being commonest in woodland with scattered acacias. In some areas, it is threatened by habitat loss due to increasing desertification, and occasionally it is hunted for food or shot as a crop pest.
This sweet and gentle female patas monkey is for sale in the city of Bangui, Central African Republic. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
New World monkeys
Capuchin monkeys (Cebus)
Capuchin monkeys are a group of 10 species of New World monkeys, belonging to either one genus, Cebus, or to two genera, Cebus and Sapajus, depending on authority. They are distributed from Honduras southwards to northern Argentina.
The word capuchin derives from a group of Franciscan friars, named the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, which arose in 1520, when Italian friar Matteo da Bascio claimed that God had informed him that the manner of life led by his contemporary friars was not the one, which St. Francis of Assisi had dictated. The friars of this order wear brown robes with pointed hoods, called capuche. When the conquistadors reached Central America late in the 15th Century, they noticed some small monkeys, whose colouring resembled these friars, so they named them capuchins. (Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capuchin_monkey)
White-headed capuchin (Cebus capucinus)
This species is native to forests of Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and coastal Columbia and Ecuador. In the West, it is one of the best known of all monkeys, as it was often the faithful companion of the organ grinder, who would walk from town to town, playing his organ, while his monkey would perform a dance. It is quite common in the wild, often being confiding.
These three pictures, depicting white-headed capuchins, are from Costa Rica. The prehensile tail is used as a fifth limb, when the monkey is feeding. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This one is resting on a branch, Parque Nacional Palo Verde, Guanacaste, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Howler monkeys (Alouatta)
These monkeys constitute a group of 15 species in the family Atelidae, distributed from south-eastern Mexico southwards to northern Argentina. They live in various types of forest, including mangrove and swamp forest. Threats to these monkeys include habitat destruction and human persecution for food, for the pet industry, and for zoos.
Howler monkeys are famous for their loud call, which can be heard almost 5 km away. They have an enlarged hyoid bone, which enables them to produce this incredibly loud noise. The main function of the howling is probably to guard the territory of the troop.
Mantled howler monkey (Alouatta palliata)
Comprising 5 subspecies, this monkey is widespread, distributed from south-eastern Mexico southwards to northern Peru. The golden-mantled howler monkey, ssp. palliata, ranges from extreme eastern Guatemala eastwards to eastern Costa Rica, or possibly extreme western Panama. This subspecies is quite dark, with a rufous mantle. It mainly lives in the lowland, occasionally found up to 2,000 m altitude.
Golden-mantled howler monkeys, feeding in a tree, near Bagaces, Guanacaste, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This tiny young is clinging to its mother’s tail, Bagaces. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A slightly larger young already shows great agility. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Spider monkeys (Ateles)
Spider monkeys are a genus of seven species, belonging to the family Atelidae. They are found from southern Mexico southwards to Brazil, living in the upper stratum of tropical forests. These monkeys are characterized by their disproportionately long limbs, which have given them their name, and their long, prehensile tail, which is used as a fifth limb. They live in bands, comprising up to 35 members, which will disperse during the day to feed.
All species of spider monkeys are threatened due to habitat destruction and hunting for food, and two species, the black-headed spider monkey (Ateles fusciceps) and the brown spider monkey (A. hybridus), are critically endangered.
Geoffroy’s spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi)
Six subspecies of this monkey, which is also called black-handed or Central American spider monkey, are distributed from south-eastern Mexico eastwards to Panama. It mainly occurs in evergreen rainforest, but may also be found in deciduous forest. The species is threatened due to habitat loss, which has been severe across its entire range. It is estimated that it has declined by as much as 50% during the last 50 years. Today, it mainly survives in protected areas.
A young Yucatan spider monkey, ssp. yucatanensis, clings to its mother’s back, Tikal National Park, Guatemala. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Yucatan spider monkey, using its prehensile tail as a fifth limb, Tikal National Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Monkeys and culture
In many countries, especially in India, monkeys play an important role in folklore and culture. The pictures in this section show a few examples.
The relief in the picture below, photographed in a Jain temple atop the rock Vindyagiri, Sravanabelagola, Karnataka, South India, depicts a bonnet macaque (Macaca radiata), embracing a jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus).
A collection of pictures, depicting marvellous Jain temples, are found on the page Religion: Jainism.
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The pictures below, from Taichung, Taiwan, show acrobats, dressed as monkeys, who perform various acts, such as walking on stilts while balancing eggs on a stick, and jumping through burning rings.
(Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In the village of Tortuguero, in Tortuguero National Park, province of Limón, Costa Rica, I encountered this wall painting, depicting a golden-mantled howler monkey (Alouatta palliata ssp. palliata) and a brown-throated three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus), having coffee under the following slogan, ‘Tortuguero es pura vida’ (‘Tortuguero is pure life’).
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This sign outside a tour agency, likewise in Tortuguero National Park, is advertising jungle trips, using a white-headed capuchin (Cebus capucinus) and a great curassow (Crax rubra) as eye-catchers. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This street entertainer in the city of Tirumalai, Andhra Pradesh, has caught two young bonnet macaques (Macaca radiata), training them to perform. They seem to be arguing about something. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Another street entertainer with performing rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta), Delhi, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The sculpture in the picture below, depicting smiling long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis), was observed in a Hindu temple in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. Other pictures, depicting monkey sculptures in Ubud, may be seen on the page Culture: Folk art around the world.
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Hanuman, the monkey god
In Hinduism, Rama is the seventh incarnation of the supreme god Vishnu, and main character in the great epic Ramayana. He was born as the son of King Dasharatha, who ruled the Kingdom of Koshada, northern India, and the king’s first wife, Queen Kausalya, and was thus destined to take over the kingdom in due time. However, in a moment of thoughtlessness, his father promised one of his other wives that her son should inherit the throne for 14 years, and that Rama should be expelled from the kingdom in this period. Rama knew of no other law than to obey his father, and he spent his exile wandering about in the forests with his chosen one, Sita, and his half-brother, Lakshmana.
One day, Sita was abducted by Ravana, a ten-headed and twenty-armed demon king from Sri Lanka. Hanuman, leader of the monkey army, was a supporter of Rama, and he volunteered to go to Sri Lanka to negotiate Sita’s release.
It is told that during his stay in Sri Lanka, Hanuman stole mango fruits. For this sin, Ravana ordered him to be burned. Ravana’s soldiers tied a rag, soaked in oil, to his tail and set fire to it. During his attempt to extinguish the fire, Hanuman’s face and hands were blackened by the fire. The episode was noticed by the god of fire, Agni, who protected Hanuman from the heat, while the flaming tail, in retaliation, set many houses on fire. An enormous leap brought Hanuman back to India.
During the final battle, Rama managed to kill the evil demon king, and Sita was released. When the 14 years of exile had passed, Rama went home and assumed his throne.
As a reward for his services, Hanuman was raised to become a deity. He inspires strength in people, making him popular among men, whereas women generally regard him with mistrust, because he is unmarried. Due to the great deeds, performed by the monkey army in the Ramayana, monkeys are considered sacred among Hindus, and troops of rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta), bonnet macaques (Macaca radiata), or grey langurs (Semnopithecus) often live around temples, where part of their diet consists of rice, sweets, or other edibles, brought as offerings by devout Hindus.
The legend informs us that Hanuman is a langur, which has black face and hands, and thus not a macaque, which is uniformly brown. Nevertheless, macaques are sacred animals on par with langurs.
The pictures below show various aspects of monkeys, referring to the Ramayana.
Sculpture in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, depicting the monkey god Hanuman, carrying Rama and Lakshmana on his shoulders, while trampling a demon. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Balinese Keçak Dance (‘Monkey Dance’) depicts a scene from the Ramayana. Rama’s fiancée Sita has been abducted to Sri Lanka by the demon king Ravana, and Hanuman’s monkey army is trying to rescue her. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This detail of a Khmer relief in Banteay Srei, Angkor, Cambodia, depicts another scene from the Ramayana. The demon king Ravana is shaking the abode of the Hindu gods, Mount Kailash, making gods and animals horror-stricken, in this case Hanuman, a lion-headed deity, and the elephant-headed god Ganesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This Hanuman sculpture outside a Hindu temple near Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, is covered in green algae and lichens. Rice and flowers have been brought to the image as an offering. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Over the years, the features of this Hanuman sculpture at the Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal, have become blurred due to a thick layer of orange sindur (red powder, mixed with mustard oil), applied by devout Hindus during puja (worship). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This sculpture, depicting a warrior in Hanuman’s army, is guarding outside the Holy Water Temple in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
(Uploaded March 2018)
(Latest update May 2020)