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(Un)expected Visitors, Redux

July 30, 2011

Normally I would apologize.  Writing again about monkeys, considering the abundance of posts we already have on the topic, may seem repetitive.  However, after debating it with myself, and looking over my photos, I decided I just have to share these amazing, close-up shots of the Nilgiri langur.  Nilgiri langurs, compared to the macaques, are a rare species, and not often sighted outside the official boundaries of the forest. Michael provided a bit more information about them in his earlier post, Unexpected Visitors.

In his post, Michael predicted that we would not see this species again at Cardamom County. Surprisingly, they have returned twice since that post. Their visit during which I took these photos was not so different from the prior one, except that  in contrast to their previous avoidance of a scene, this time they cried loudly, and jumped and ran around unusually. One of them even ran right through a gathering group of human admirers! This is remarkable because they are usually very shy and markedly wary of human interaction. But within a few moments, we found out why they were acting so out of character.

This is where the story takes a turn for the complicated. Cardamom County has the privilege of hosting guests on the immediate periphery of Periyar Reserve, where these monkeys live in protected isolation. But with the privilege of proximity come some responsibilities. The resort’s nature-friendly design is meant to provide humans a refuge from modern urban life–which is to say the property is full of trees, vines and flowers that are indigenous to the ecosystem–and must seem equally welcoming to the uninitiated, unfamiliar Langurs. Access to the resort, from a monkey’s perspective, is even easier than the access humans enjoy.  They do not need to stop in at reception.  No reservations required, no credit cards or passports.

At any given time the property must seem like an all-you-can-eat buffet table to them.  Right now, for example, there is so much jack fruit ready to be eaten that it must seem impossible to the monkeys to ignore the wafting scent.  And once they arrive, enchanted by that smell, they discover a dozen other types of edibles (some that humans also enjoy, some that only a monkey could love) within reach of the jack fruit.  Then the best monkey surprise of all after a bit of wandering through the trees in which the guest rooms are nestled: this place has acres of organic fruits and vegetables growing in rows so neat and tidy for us!

Needless to say, but reminiscent of a certain fair-haired young lady and a clan of bears, no lawyers are needed to stipulate proprietary rights. The monkeys see the bounty of nature, they say grace, and they dig in.  The humans, responsible to Chef Pradeep for ensuring that bounty makes it from farm to table, think otherwise.  An odd dance ensues.  Humans jump up and down and make noise (monkeys thank the good folks in Delhi who set laws prohibiting anything more aggressive). Monkeys cock their heads at the funny way humans behave, and sometimes raise their eyebrows in flirtatious consideration, but ultimately get the point; they grab some more veggies, and run.

The complicated turn, and responsibilities, intersect at this point.  The resort is serving a very important purpose, at least as important to the monkeys as to the humans themselves: if humans do not visit nature from time to time as guests, they do not value it; if humans living near that nature do not have jobs (gardeners, chefs, receptionists, etc.) they might otherwise exploit nature to make ends meet (and over-exploit seems more the norm of humanity).  So, it seems best for humans to shoo monkeys back to the forest.

But by the law of unintended consequences there are sometimes no easy exits.  The Nilgiri Langurs we photographed may or may not have been coming from the garden.  They may or may not have been in a rush.  But the behavior of one of them was strange.  It was not until I examined my photos more carefully that we might have understood why.   If you look in the photo immediately above, at the outer side of the monkey’s left foot, you can see that it has been injured.  How that happened, no clue.  But it raised these questions for us.

Shooing the monkeys away from the farm, ultimately, is one of many important mechanisms for protecting these wild animals. And though any visit they make to the resort would seem to be beautifully entertaining to us humans, Nilgiri Langurs are most safe back in the forest canopy.  Speaking of questions, I casually referred at the beginning of this post to “official boundaries” as if it is obvious what these boundaries are.  Do monkeys know those boundaries?  Apparently not.

As a visitor to their neck of the woods, whenever I see them I count myself lucky that they do not stick to any human-imposed boundaries; but today, for their sake, I hope they figure out to stay safe well inside the 900+ square kilometers that have been set aside for them.  We have enough photos and videos already to know how important the preservation of this species is.  And we do not dance very well.  At least not from a monkey’s perspective.

PS– Here are some pictures and a quick video of our neighbors, a roaming troupe of macaques from the Periyar, ‘hunting’ for water while an unsuspecting housekeeping attendant is restocking guest rooms.

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