Getting to know the langur and toque macaque

The Cinnamon Lodge and Chaaya Village hotels in Habarana was the setting of a three month study of the two most commonly seen primates in Sri Lanka.

Of the five species of primates observed in Sri Lanka -the grey langur, purple faced langur, toque macaque, grey slender loris and the red slender loris, two species - the grey langur and the toque macaque were under observation in the 25 acre twin hotel compound situated in the heart of primate country at Habarana.

Primate project 1

The project, a joint effort between the John Keells Hotels and Oxford Brooks University, UK was arranged by Chitral Jayatilake, Head of Eco Tourism and Special Projects for Keells Hotels and Dr. Anna Nekaris who heads the Primate Research division at the university.

Two MSc students from Oxford Brooks arrived at the Lodge in early May this year to team up with the Nature Trails in house naturalist team in conducting a 90 day study of the primates that roam the hotel complex.

Kate Grounds from Oxford Brooks who headed the team watching macaques soon discovered two main toque macaque troops, one that roams the Chaaya Village compound and the second that is seen on the Lodge side of the complex, though both these troops and their territories did overlap at certain points. Alice Martin and her team studying the Langurs also found two troops of this species named as the Chaaya Group and the Farm group.

Both species spent more than 90 percent of their time within the hotel compound while 55% of the time, they were observed within close walking distance to tourist areas of the hotels showing an amazing habituated behaviour.

The study focused on their feeding habits, home ranges, human primate interaction, staff perceptions, guests comments of seeing high densities of primates in such close proximity and potential to conduct primate observations as a tourist attraction.The study completed by both students offered an in-depth insight to a group of animals which are often taken for granted and seen as a pest rather than a part of the environment that we enjoy so much.

Primate project 2.

A mini survey conducted through a questionaire given to guests was useful in understanding how the visitors viewed the primates while a list of comprehensive recommendations were made to the management.

They included further habitat management especially of trees between 2 – 10 metres, planting of feeding trees in the compound, discouraging all feeding by visitors, more signage enhancing awareness, printing of information brochures, educational programmes for all staff at the hotel while carefully planned primate watching excursions were recommended with the in-house naturalist team.

The John Keells hotels management team plans to develop primate watching excursions within their sprawling 25 acre site promoting another sphere of wildlife tourism which is otherwise dominated by the leopard and the elephant in Sri Lanka.

Such studies can change our perceptions on animals that are otherwise seen as a nuisance and make a vast majority of staff and visitors sensitive to looking at primates as an asset, thus helping their cause to survive in a changing world dominated by unfriendly humans, said Chitral Jayatilake.

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