Guwahati is the only metropolitan city where highest number of wildlife can be seen and also struggling to survive. The capped langur (Trachypithecus pileatus) is one of such species among the wildlife struggling to survive in surrounding areas of Guwahati in Kamrup district for years.
Environmentalists have raised concerns for years about wildlife being in peril, but now the situation is far more severe than imagined earlier. Only six-seven groups of capped langurs with 15-20 members are left in patches of forest adjacent to Guwahati city moving most of daytime searching food to survive in the forest.
The fragmented forests in their old habitat with trees cannot provide food as most of the trees which provide their food have been cut down. Some forests totally destroyed, others become so fragmented as to island populations leaving them vulnerable to local extinction. Water pollution, air pollution and forest fragmentation are also affecting the remaining numbers. The species has also specially adapted to the harsh environment in Kamrup.
The capped langur is a non-human primate species in the family Cercopithecidae. It is found in Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China, India and Myanmar. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical dry forests and no population growth has been seen due to vanishing forests in all these countries.
Capped langur, the primate is found in different patches of forests in Assam mostly in the southern part of the Brahmaputra. The lone major threat to this species is encroachment and destruction of forest. The species has lost its habitat and it is taking place in Guwahati city also. There are less than hundred capped langurs survived in Amchang and Garbhanga forests adjacent to Guwahati in Kamrup district of Assam. Garbhanga Reserve Forest is adjacent to Deepor Beel Wildlife Sanctuary, a Ramsar site. The situation is worst in Guwahati, where tropical forest destruction puts many species at terrible risk.
Highly social capped langurs live in mixed social groups that may include an adult male, two to five adult females, often with infants, some sub-adults and juveniles. They travel single-file, often noisily crashing through the canopy. Primarily vegetarian, capped langurs eat a wide range of food, including shoots, flowers, bark, fruit; bamboo shoots and seeds are also relished. At night, capped langur troupes retire to the high boughs to roost for the night. Their diet is primarily vegetarian, occasionally supplemented by insects.
The loss of habitat caused by the clearing of tropical forests for agriculture, logging, and the collection of wood for fuel continues to be the main reason for the declining number of primates, according to studies. Meanwhile, the number of langurs continues to increase slowly. Because females can only give birth every 2 to 3 years and any newborn will require 4 to 6 years to reach sexual maturity. As the species struggling for habitat and searching for food their production is decreasing with insecurity and busy life.
The report from the World Conservation Union (IUCN) states 114 of the world’s 394 primate species including capped langur could be lost forever because of the continuing destruction of tropical forests, illegal wildlife trade, climate change and commercial bushmeat hunting.
The 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species offered assessments of 634 primate taxa, of which 303 (47.8%) were listed as threatened (vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered). A total of 206 primate species were ranked as either critically endangered or endangered, 54 (26%) which have been included at least once in The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates since 2000. Almost one in three of all non-human primate species – including apes, monkeys and lemurs – have been classified as being in danger of extinction.
Well-protected species such as capped langur still has very small populations, and due to deforestation, new habitat is still needed for their long-term survival. Even inclusion under Schedule I of the Wild Life (Protection) Act of India, being the highest conservation status in India, is just not enough. This is because enforcement in the field is not adequate. Wildlife officials have failed to address the problems suffered by langurs and failure to respond to the growing threats along with the potential impact of encroachment was in danger of causing the first primate extinctions for more than a century.
The future of the species depends on conservation of forests and tree plantation which provide food to them. The situation is worst in Guwahati, where tropical forest destruction puts many species at terrible risk. The main threats are habitat destruction, particularly from encroachment and tree felling of tropical. Not only can the trees regrow but the langurs will never be able to protect themselves from predators and ultimately become extinct.
Chandan Koomaar Duworah, a Guwahati-based journalist, can be reached at [email protected]