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Lion-tailed macaque

Scientific name: Macaca silenus

Country: IndiaLion-tailed macaque - Photo taken by Mark Cawardine

Continent: Asia

Diet: Fruits - frugivore, leaves - folivore, small vertebrates and invertebrates. In the Zoo their diet consists of a variety of fruit and vegetables, sunflower seeds, granary bread, peanuts, flakes maize and special primate dietary supplement pellets.

Food & feeding: Omnivore

Habitats: Tropical dry forest, tropical rainforest

Conservation status: Endangered

Relatives: Pig-tailed macaque, baboon, other old world monkeys.

Description: The lion-tailed macaque is a medium-sized monkey with shiny black fur and long greyish-white hair around its face. It gets its name from its long tail, which has a tassel at the end like that of a lion. Both sexes look alike except the males are slightly larger (around seven kg) than the females (five kg).

Lifestyle: These handsome monkeys spend most of their time high up in the trees of the dense, wet forests of southwest India. They are primarily frugivorous but will also consume leaves, berries, insects and seeds, using their special cheek pouches to store food whilst they forage. Although they rarely come to the ground, they are excellent swimmers. Unlike other species of macaques that will often live around villages and towns, they are very shy and will avoid humans.

Family & friends: This species lives in small groups of ten to twenty individuals. Each group usually has a single leading male, with the young males dispersing at the onset of maturity to live in bachelor groups. The young females form strong bonds with their mothers and usually remain within their natal group.

Keeping in touch: The males in particular utter a loud coughing call, often when the group is beginning to move from one feeding location to another in the forest. The call might be useful to keep the group together, and because it is so loud, it might be a useful signal to neighbouring groups as well.

The bold black and white markings of this monkey might seem very obvious when you look at the animal in its enclosure at the zoo. But in the forest where they live, dappled sunlight through the trees creates light and dark patches, into which the macaque's markings blend in perfectly. This camouflage helps make it difficult to spot these animals in the wild.

Growing up: Lion-tailed macaques become sexually mature at two and a half to four years of age. Breeding occurs all year round, with a single infant born after a gestation period of about six months and weaned six to twelve months later. The mother and infant maintain close contact until the arrival of her next offspring, usually a year later.

Conservation news: In the past they have been hunted for their meat and fur, resulting in the species being threatened with less than 2,500 individuals left in the wild. There are now about 400 in zoos, most of which have been bred in captivity. As with so many mammals, currently the main threat in the wild is destruction of their habitat.

Bristol Zoo is actively involved in the conservation breeding programme and has provided animals for groups to be established elsewhere in the British Isles.