Langurs are leaf-eating, tree-residing, forest-dwelling monkeys. They are regarded as among the most arboreal of all Old World monkeys. They are active throughout the tree canopy and can be found in both primary and secondary forests. They rarely come to the ground. When they do it is mainly to gain access to mineral sources.

Most langurs are grayish, brownish or blackish, with paler underparts. Some have light colored markings on their head or stripes on their thighs. Langur adults weigh from five to eight kilograms and have a head and body length of 42 to 61 centimeters and a tail length of 50 to 85 centimeters.

Langur bodies are adapted for tree life. They have long tails, a slender body, strong slender hands, and well developed fingers. Although langurs eat leaves the their primary sources of nutrition come from fruits and seeds. On a daily basis they range through the forest between 500 and 800 meters to forage.

Langur Behavior

Langur groups tend to be small, with around 7 to 15 members, including a dominate male and three or more females and their young. In some cases you can find monogamous pairs. A typical group embraces a territory of 35 to 40 hectares. Males not in a group may form all male groups.

Many langur and Asian colobine monkeys form territorial groups of related females (natal groups) who appear to safeguard availability to resources and allow preferential access to a single male, but usually for no more than two years.

Dominate male changes are followed by bouts of infanticide in which the new male methodically kills all unweaned infants in the group and mates with females ensure their offspring carry his genes not those of his rival. This behavior was first noted among Hanuman langurs but occurs among other species as well. Curiously, many langur infants are born with an orange natal coat that contrasts with that of other monkey changes to adult coloration after a few months. This feature would seem to help new males target their victims.

Langurs make a noise that sounds like a "staccato cough" when they are angry or spot a tiger. When langurs drink at water holes, there is often a scout in a tree that keeps an eyes for tigers and other predators.

Endangered Langurs

Javan langur

Some langur species are threatened. Delacour’s langur is critically endangered. The douc langur and Francois langur are endangered.

Many species are suffering from the effects of logging, deforestation, hunting and loss of habitat. In many cases, suitable habitat are only fragments of what they once were. Their numbers have declined by more than half in last couple of decades.

In south India, the meat of the Nilgiri langur is believed to be an aphrodisiac and have other medicinal qualities. In Thailand, the blood of Phayre’s langur and other leaf monkeys believed to make the drinker strong and virile especially when mixed with local whiskey.

Hanuman Langurs

Caring langur

The Hanuman langur lives in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, southern Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim, northern Pakistan and Kashmir. Named after the Hindu monkey god, it has adapted to a number of environments: rain forests, desert edges, mountains and alpine scrub, from sea level up to elevations of 4000 meters. They have a head and body length of between 41 and 78 centimeters and a tail between 69 and 108 centimeters in length and weigh between 5.4 and 23.6 kilograms. Some live to be more than 40 years old.

The upper parts of Hanuman langur’s body and head are mostly brown, grey or buff. The crown and lower parts are white, orange-white or yellowish. Even though it is quite at home in the trees and can leap horizontally 15 meters and jump vertically 5 meters, it spends much of its time on the ground. Its most distinctive call is a booming morning whoop that apparently helps to define the space occupied by different groups. Their long tails helps them balance on cliffs, where they sometimes hang out

The Hanuman langur is mainly diurnal and is most active in the mornings and evenings. It eats mostly leaves but also consumes fruits, flowers and cultivated crops. In India, there are about 100,000 of them. There are also significant numbers of them in Sri Lanka.

Hanuman Langur Group Behavior

Hanuman langurs hangs out in groups with 13 to 37 members. Each group is led by a single male and generally has twice as many females as males. Males often work out their rank by fighting. Most young are born after a 190 to 210 day gestation period in the dry season. Weaning is done after 10 to 12 months. Females reach sexual maturity when they are three to four; males, when they are six to seven.

Sometimes an all-male group will attack mixed-sex groups. If the dominant male is defeated sometimes the new leader will kill all the infants. This measure will bring the females into estrus within a couple weeks and allow the new leader to mate and father new offspring.

Females often share babysitting duties within a close-knit group of females and their offspring. The young are born with dark fur than turns thick and greyish gold after a few months. More than half are killed by disease, predators or infanticide---a common practice when a new male takes over a langur group.

Hanuman Langurs and Humans

Jennifer S. Holland wrote in National Geographic, “In India monkey business takes on a whole new meaning. Hanuman langurs are trained in New Delhi to scare off aggressive rhesus monkeys and other wild animals that might roam into public spaces and cause mischief. When the city hosted the 2010 Commonwealth Games... its municipal council used 38 langurs to help with critter control. These primates are valued as more than security guards. Hindus revere them as a symbol of the monkey deity Hanuman, whose simian army helped rescue Sita, the god Rama's wife, from a demon king, according to a Sanskrit epic. Langurs' black faces and extremities call to mind the burns that Hanuman suffered in the course of his heroism. [Source: Jennifer S. Holland, National Geographic, August 2011]

The lifestyle of the monkeys reflects this state of grace. In the city of Jodhpur, at the edge of the Thar, or Great Indian, Desert, some 2,100 wild langurs regularly leap into human society to sample its goods. Local Hindus share picnics in parks and turn shrines into buffets of offerings for the monkeys. Some let the holy beasts glean from their gardens. That's a nice change of pace from life in the Thar, where sizzling heat and scant moisture make survival a challenge, and the monkeys must scrounge for plants and occasional insects to eat. Since most langurs are tree dwellers, these often scamper high on the desert cliffs or perch on nearby rooftops. But the human population is growing fast in the region these days, and people may be tempted to retaliate if the monkeys' garden incursions turn into full-fledged crop raids. Even animals this beloved could wear out their welcome.

A number of Hanuman langurs reside t Mandor Garden on the outskirts where they are often seen munching on picnic snacks, which are sometimes given to them and sometimes snatched. In the That Desret temperatures sometimes reach 120 degrees.

Using Langurs to Control Rhesus Monkeys

spectacles langur

Animal control officials often use langurs, which are bigger and fiercer monkeys, to scare away the smaller macaques or drive them into cages. Julian West wrote in The Telegraph: “The Indian government has put several large monkeys on its payroll in a last-ditch attempt to scare away thousands of smaller rhesus monkeys that have been attacking New Delhi's civil servants, sabotaging hotlines and stealing state secrets. The fearsome-looking langur monkeys now patrol South Block, the magnificent red sandstone complex that houses the defence, external affairs and finance ministries - as well as the army headquarters and Delhi's main hospital - snarling menacingly at intruders. Each receives a salary of 600 rupees (£10) a month, paid in bananas. [Source: Julian West, The Telegraph, April 15, 2001]

“The staff at President's House, Lutyens's splendid monument to the raj which adjoins South Block, devised the novel plan of using langur patrols after monkeys were found peering into President Narayan's private quarters and romping over his verandah. The langurs, which are extremely ferocious and attack other monkeys on sight, make their rounds each morning before the civil servants arrive with their tempting tiffin-carriers, or lunch-boxes. However, as temporary employees, unlike the horses, dogs and mules employed by the government, they have not been given the customary Indian civil service numbers. Unfortunately, though, South Block's cheeky monkeys have decamped to New Delhi's main post office. The city's residents, who are already accustomed to losing large quantities of their mail through pilfering, have resigned themselves to yet more monkey business.

Douc Langurs

The douc langur lives around the Mekong River in central and southern Vietnam, central Laos and eastern Cambodia. Residing in rain forests from sea level up to elevations of 2000 meters, it has a head and body length of between 61 and 76 centimeters and a tail between 56 and 76 centimeters in length.

The douc langur is one of the most strikingly colored of all monkeys, with sharply contrasting patches of color. Its head is brown and the body is mostly grey. The rump, tail and forearms are white. The upper parts of the arms, legs, hands and feet are black. Some subspecies have a bright yellow face, white whiskers and reddish chestnut upper legs.

The douc langur is mainly diurnal and arboreal. It eats both leaves and fruits and hangs out in groups with 4 to 15 members. Each group is led by a single male and generally has twice as many females as males. Each sex has its own hierarchy and males are usually dominant over females. Most young are born after a 165 to 190 day gestation period in February to June when large numbers of fruit trees fruit.

Brown-Ridged Langurs

There are nine species of brown-ridged langur. They are scattered over a wide area in India, Southeast Asia and Indonesia. Residing mainly in forests, they have a head and body length of between 40 and 76 centimeters and a tail between 57 and 110 centimeters in length and weigh between 4.2 and 14 kilograms

Brown-ridged langurs are usually brown, dark grey or black. Most species have white, yellowish or black markings on their head, rump, limbs and tail. Some have white circles around their eyes. Others have a pointed crest on the top of their heads.

Brown-ridged langurs are mainly diurnal and arboreal. They eat leaves and crops but prefer fruit and flowers and often migrate a great distance to gain access to fruit. Some species never descend from trees except to get water during the middle of the dry season.

Brown-ridged langur groups tend to be small with 6 to 30 members. Each group is led by a single male and generally has twice as many females as males. Males periodically fight for dominance of a group. When a new male takes over a group he often kills all the young. Females have their own hierarchy system. Most young are born after a 140 to 200 day gestation period.

White Headed Langur

spectacled langur

The white-headed langur is a monkey that lives in an area of karst mountains in Guanxi Province. Adults are black with white heads and black faces. Infants are yellow. Infanticide---in which a male takes over a group and kills all the newborns presumably so females can start ovulating and bear the male’s offspring---is practiced.

The population of white-headed langur dropped from around 2,000 individuals in the late 1980s to fewer than 500 in the mid 1990s due mainly to poaching by non-locals to supply wildlife food market. Since then their numbers have increased mainly by encouraging local villagers to help the monkeys by preserving the forest where they live and driving away poachers. Conservationists achieved these gains by providing clean water to the villagers to earn their trust and cooperation and building biogas convertors to keep them from cutting down trees. The programs has been so successful it has been held up as a model for saving endangered animals in other localities.

Pan Wenshi, a conservationist known for his work with pandas, has been the leader in the drive to save the langurs. He helped set up a 24-square-kilometer nature reserve where most the langurs live and initiated the programs to get villager involved in saving them.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.

Last updated November 2012

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