The Monkeys of Nepal’s Terai

There are few wild animals that evoke images of jungle like monkeys and with good reason. Non-human primates are mostly restricted to warmer latitudes (China’s Golden Snub-nosed monkey and the Japanese Macaque aside), being found mainly within subtropical and tropical areas, mostly in forests.

Some monkeys like the Drill Monkey of Africa tend to live more like great apes, spending less time in the trees but most are fairly arboreal. What would an arboreal monkey be without a forest?

The lowland area of western Nepal (and part of India) the Terai, is a flat area of mixed forest and grassland, a place also inhabited by one-horned rhinoceros, tigers, leopards, Asian elephants, cobras, pythons and large monitor lizards. It’s an environment locals casually refer to as ‘jungle’ and few westerners would dispute that classification. Even if it doesn’t technically fit the bill of ‘jungle’ in the correct sense, it certainly measures up to the romantic connotations of the word. Bardia National Park in the Terai has two species of monkey, the smaller, shorter tailed and pink-faced Rhesus Macaque (Macaca mulatta) (also to be found at temples in Kathmandu) and the longer tailed, larger, and dark faced Common Langur (Semnopithecus sp.) also known as the sacred langur.

Depending on the relationship monkeys have with humans in the area, they can be either shy or incredibly bold. When following woolly monkeys through the lowland rainforest of eastern Ecuador, I was told they were an indicator of little disturbance by people since they’re often quickly hunted out. In Equatorial Guinea and other places, monkeys are often sold illegally as bushmeat or pets.

Here in Nepal, the monkeys seem to feel they have little to fear…except perhaps from street dogs, which they’re keen to warn other monkeys of as they approach. Rhesus macaque populations seem healthy and stable but it’s more complicated for langurs, which are in decline in some areas, making them endangered. Interestingly, they’re associated with Hanuman the Hindu monkey god, who is said to have black hands and face from rescuing a woman from a fire, which is why langurs have black hands and faces to this day. Unfortunately a sacred monkey doesn’t usually keep people from cutting down forests to make a living.

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