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Facts About Lion-tailed Macaques You May Not Know

Smita Pandit
The lion-tailed macaque is an Old World monkey that can be identified with its characteristic glossy, black-colored fur and face-framing silver-white mane. This story lists a few interesting facts about lion-tailed macaques.

Did You Know?

Thanks to the consistent efforts made by environmental conservationists in India, the lion-tailed macaque has been taken off from the list of the World's 25 Most Endangered Primates. This list is compiled by the Primate Specialist Group of the IUCN/Species Survival Commission, the International Primatological Society, Conservation International (CI), and the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation.
Endemic to the Western Ghats in India, the lion-tailed macaque belongs to Macaca genus and Cercopithecidae family. This Old World monkey gets its name from its distinctive silver-gray mane and a lion-like tail (tail with a tuft of fur at the end).
Primarily arboreal in nature, these monkeys spend most of their lives on treetops or canopies, coming down sometimes just to search for food. Lion-tailed macaques are native to the evergreen tropical rainforests in Western Ghats, a mountain range located along the western coast of India, in the states of Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu.
Around 350-400 lion-tailed macaques live in zoos, and 3000-3500 live in the wild. They have the 'Endangered' status in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, and are listed in the Appendix 1 of CITES.
Their endangered status and the high risk of extinction in the wild has been attributed to the fragmentation of their habitat due to the spread of agriculture and clearing of forested land for the creation of dams, reservoirs, and teak, coffee, and tea plantations.
Conservationists have been taking steps to protect their habitat, so as to tackle the issue of the declining numbers of these truly arboreal monkeys.

Information About Lion-tailed Macaques

✦ Kingdom: Animalia
✦ Phylum: Chordata
✦ Class: Mammalia
✦ Order: Primates
✦ Family: Cercopithecidae
✦ Genus: Macaca
✦ Scientific name: Macaca silenus

Physical Characteristics
✦ Head and Body Length: 51-61 cm (males), 46 cm (females)
✦ Average Weight: 20-25 pounds (males), 15-18 pounds (females)
✦ Tail Length: 24-39 (males), 25-32 cm (females)

Breeding and Lifespan
✦ Gestation Period: 6 months
✦ Age of Maturity: 7 years (males), 4 years (females)
✦ Lifespan: 20 years (In wild); Up to 30 years (In captivity)


These Old World monkeys live in evergreen and semi-evergreen rainforests or monsoon forests (especially broadleaf trees) located in Western Ghats, India. They prefer to live on treetops, and may sometimes come down to the ground. They are mostly found at altitudes of 600-1000 m, but might sometimes be found at elevations as high as 1,500 m. They have adapted well to their habitat.
Unfortunately, habitat fragmentation is causing their population to decline, as these monkeys don't inhabit plantations and don't travel through plantations or farmlands to move from one forest to another.


Lion-tailed macaques are omnivores. Though their diet mainly comprises leaves, pith, shoots, seeds, buds, flowers, mesocarp, and fruits, they can also consume insects, caterpillars, spiders, snails, bird eggs, nestlings, lizards, etc.
In zoos, their diet consists of sunflower seeds, granary bread, peanuts, corn, fruits, vegetables, primate biscuits, and dietary supplement pellets. They have a simple stomach that is adapted to digest carbohydrates and simple sugars.

Interesting Facts About the Lion-tailed Macaque

▶ Lion-tailed macaques get their name from their mane and the tufted tail, which is similar to that of lions.
✦ These Old World monkeys have a narrow septum, which is why their nostrils are close and point downwards.
✦ Like the other Old World monkeys, they have cheek pouches. When foraging for food, they stuff food in their cheek pouches, especially when they sense an impending threat. This allows them to run and climb the trees freely. Their cheek pouches open beside their lower teeth. These pouches are distensible, and extend down on the side of the neck. These monkeys can gather large amounts of food in these cheek pouches, as the storage capacity of these pouches is akin to that of their stomach.
✦ These monkeys are diurnal, which means that they are active during the daylight hours.
▶ Lion-tailed macaques are quadrupedal, which means that they walk on all four limbs.
✦ The feet of these monkeys are plantigrade, which means that they walk on the whole foot, with the entire sole of the foot touching the ground, not just the toes.
✦ These Old World monkeys show their aggression by staring, baring their teeth, and bobbing their head.
✦ These Old World monkeys exhibit sexual dimorphism, which means that there are differences in the males and females. While males and females look similar, females are smaller and weigh less. Also, males have more prominent canines.
✦ The first digit on their hands and feet can be opposed. The opposable thumbs assist in various activities such as climbing, feeding, moving, grooming, etc.
✦ Macaca silenus is the only species in the Macaca genus that is endangered.
▶ The adults have a glossy black coat, while silver-gray hair form a mane on both sides of the head, meeting under the chin.
▶ Shorter than the head and the body, the tail ends in a tassel of hair.
✦ Lion-tailed macaques are social animals. They live in groups of 10-20 individuals. The group includes monkeys belonging to both sexes and different age groups. A dominant male leads the group, protecting the offspring and other members. After maturity, young males join bachelor groups, while young females don't leave the troop and stay with their mother.
✦ The dominant male not only protects the group from predators, but also prevents the members from fighting. He makes use of different calls to communicate with the members of the troop. There are distinctive body movements that are used for communicating.
✦ Territorial in nature, these macaques defend the territory that they consider to be theirs. When the dominant male gives a loud call, a group will move away.
✦ Macaques give scream calls on being approached by other lion-tailed macaques who are not a part of the group.
✦ When females are ready to copulate, they emit courtship calls. They move away from the group to copulate.
▶ The female gives birth to an offspring, after a gestation period of six months.
✦ Occasionally, the female may give birth to twins. The average weight of a newborn is 450 g. The baby's coat is soft and black in color. Its face is pink. In a couple of months, the coat gets replaced.
✦ The mother carries the offspring around on her abdomen, weaning the offspring within a year. She cares for them.
✦ Lion-tailed macaques have a slow reproduction cycle and low birth rate, as the females give birth every 3 - 4 years. The species can live up to 20 years of age in the wild and about 30 years in captivity.
✦ Large-sized snakes, raptors, and carnivores are predators of lion-tailed macaques.
As the survival of lion-tailed macaques is threatened due to the destruction or fragmentation of their habitat, the best way to save them is to refrain from disturbing their ecosystem by deforestation, creation of reservoirs, dams, etc., or large-scale cultivation of tea/teak/coffee. Consistent efforts need to be made to ensure that their number doesn't decline further.