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The Monkey With The Golden Touch

In just of the north eastern border state of Assam exists a clan of monkeys which has rare characteristics. Their cream coloured coats and tasseled tails have earned them the name Golden Langur. However, a detailed study of the species would go a long way in serving this rare creature.India, as is known possesses dense forests where known species of wildlife simply vanished only to be spotted again, and very often new species have been discovered.

The Manas wildlife sanctuary, which is also a tiger reserve and a world heritage site, is one such place in the north-east Indian state of Assam that is home to the largest number of animal species in the country.

Hidden in the wild crowd at the Manas sanctuary is the recently discovered golden langur. The golden langurs have light cream coats which reflect golden hues in winter. Their long tassessed tails hang like mick golden coards from their perches on the trees.

Though the golden langur had been noticed by one Captain Pemberton in 1839, no efforts were made by wildlife experts to know more about the �White Monkey� which appeared to Captain Pemberton as �a new variety.� Again in 1907, E.O.Shebbears, a forester reported having seen a similar species but nothing happened until the 1940s when a naturalist and tea planter of Assam, Edward Pritchard Gee, after repeatedly hearing accounts of the cream-coloured primates, mounted an expedition in 1953 in the areas along the Sankosh River, close to Assam�s border with the Kingdom of Bhutan.

His expedition bore fruit and he on film two groups of the golden langur on the eastern bank of the river. He later gave details of his observation in his book, The Wildlife of India. The news of the discovery generated interest in the professional field; and the Zoological Survey of India collected specimens. Having the golden langur was given the scientific name of �Presbytis Geei� in 1956, after its discoverer E.P.Gee.

To see this blonde monkey we had crossed the scenic Manas River to the Bhutanese side one spring morning in 1988. after a short walk, we found them in proximity with the human settlement in the sanctuary. Shy as they seemed to be, they started reading from the fringe of the forest till we took cover in the vegetation to watch them in peace. Eating hungrily the leaves and fruits in the top story of the forest canopy they were about 30 in a group. As the sun rose high they started moving into the thick forest trapezing from tree to tree, swaying their tails forward to balance their flight and finally effect perfect landings.

The golden langur is extremely arboreal and would only descend to the ground to quench its thirst or to eat the salty earth to replenish the body salt. On some occasions, it would come down to the time off from those high precarious perches.

In Manas, the golden langur has chosen to remain on the west bank of Manas river, leaving the east bank to the capped langur which is also called leaf monkey. The latter is more shy and wary than the golden langur and does not descend to the ground even to drink water. It quenches its thirst from dew and rain-drenched leaves. Distribution of the golden langur thus does not overlap that of the capped langur, but naturalists have been wondering why the golden langurs have crossed to the other side when the species is excellent at swimming.

Besides their restricted distribution between the two rivers, Manas and Sankosh, the golden langurs live in the highlands further up in the evergreen forests in the black mountain range of Central Bhutan and as such are considered primarily a submontane species. Of late, their presence has been reported near Siliguri, a few hundred kilometers west of Manas in West Bengal.

Not much is known yet about the ecology of the species and various other vital aspects of its life. It can be safely conjectured that its broad life pattern is not too different from that of its cousin, the Hanuman Langur, which is an inhabitant of the jungles as well as the cities, thanks to the religious sanctity showered on it. The golden langur, like all langurs, is purely vegetarian and can breed in all seasons.

The future of the golden langur, despite its comparatively small range of habitate and small number, seems pretty safe. Like the Hanuman langur, it has not lagged behind in enlisting religious sentiments. Hence it is not harassed or hunted by man. Preying by animals is negligible because of its highly arboreal lifestyle. As long as its habitat is secure, all seems well for this new addition to the list of India�s delightful fauna. But in the everchanging world, where man manipulates to the detriment of wildlife, it is important that organized studies of the species are conducted and ways devised to preserve and even breed more golden langurs.