Posts Tagged ‘pig-tailed macaque’
A mature pig-tailed macaque up on a ridge-line in the sanctuary
This monkey showed-up in front of a Bushnell Trophy Cam set to video, and then made an amazing leap to a tree overlooking the lower valley. As a loner or solitary primate, he must have been pushed out of the group by a larger male. But the big question: What was he doing all the way at the top of this mountain?
Wild Primates: Gibbon, macaque, langur and loris
Gibbon hanging from bamboo in Kaeng Krachan National Park
During the Miocene Epoch (5.3-23.8 million years ago), a relative of the orangutan ape lived in the dense jungles in what is now north and northeast Thailand. Scientists digging in coalmines and sandpits have produced some very amazing fossils.
Other primates like a 13-million year old tarsier and an early Adaptiform primate have also been found in the Kingdom. The oldest anthropoid from the fossil record is Siamopithecus eocaenus, or known as ‘Siam Ape’, and found in 40 million year old strata in Krabi province down South. This legacy is just another part of Thailand’s remarkable natural heritage.
Pig-tailed macaque in Khao Yai National Park
In 2003, an extremely important discovery was made by paleontologist Dr Yaowalak Chaimanee of the Department of Mineral Resources in a lignite mine near Chiang Muan district in the northern province of Phayao. Fossilized teeth of a hominid primate about 10 to 13.5 million years old, was brought forth. The ape was first named Lufengpithecus chiangmuanensis and is related to orangutans. It has latterly been reclassified and renamed to Khoratpithecus chiangmuanensis all because of another amazing new discovery.
In 2004, a new species of fossil orangutan about 7-9 million years old was dramatically uncovered on the Khorat Plateau in Nakhon Ratchasima province. Thailand once again found itself on the world’s paleontological map. The new ape was named Khoratpithecus piriyai (ape from Khorat) after Piriya Vachajitpan, who played a major role in the discovery at the Tha Chang sandpits in Chalerm Phrakiat district. The lower jawbone and teeth have a U-shaped dental arcade similar to that of a living ape – and of human beings.
Crab-eating macaque in Sai Yok National Park
Modern orangutans hail from the Pleistocene era, from 2 million to 100,000 years ago. Their geographic distribution once included much of Southeast Asia. However, they became extinct from many areas because of deforestation and hunting. Today, the orangutan can only be found in Borneo and Sumatra.
The orangutan is the only great ape with a fossil record. Strangely, no African fossils have ever been found that are related to chimpanzees or gorillas. But determining the ancestry of the orangutan has still proven extremely difficult.
Dusky langur in Kaeng Krachan
Dr Yaowalak has also discovered other primates like Siamoadapis maemohensis, a primitive primate. A new species – named Tarsius sirindhornae (named after HRH Princess Sirindhon) – that lived about 13 million years ago has also been found. Tarsiers are primates that share a common ancestor with monkeys and humans.
Primates started evolving more than 50 million years ago during the Eocene when mammalian evolution accelerated. A newly found species small enough to fit in the palm of a hand is North America’s oldest known primate, according to a new study. Christopher Beard, a paleontologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, recently discovered fossils of the 55-million-year-old creature on the Gulf Coastal Plain of Mississippi.
Slow loris in Kaeng Krachan
Named Teilhardina magnoliana, the animal is related to similarly aged fossils from China, Europe and Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin and is the oldest primate ever discovered. They are very primitive relatives of living primates called tarsiers, which live today in Southeast Asia.
A new kind of primate that lived 43 million years ago has been discovered in the Big Bend region of West Texas. Named Mescalerolemur horneri, it was among the last primates endemic to North America. This petite creature, weighing just 370 grams, is related to modern-day lemurs found only in Madagascar.
Pileated gibbon male and female in Khao Ang Run Nai Wildlife Sanctuary
The Primate order includes tarsiers, lemurs, lorises, monkeys, gibbons, large apes and humans. Also known as simians, the sub-order Anthropoidea is comprised of apes and humans, and New and Old World monkeys.
Some scientists now believe that some hominoid primates evolved in Asia, possibly in parallel with Africa. A faunal dispersal corridor is believed to have existed between Southeast Asia and Africa during the Middle Miocene. Fossils of human species Homo erectus have been found both on the island of Java and in China. Many new hotly debated theories have erupted within scientific and academic circles.
Crab-eating macaque in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary
Wild primates in the Kingdom include slow loris and various macaques, langurs and gibbons. Most live in the forests of protected areas. Populations are dwindling, however, as forest habitat is slowly destroyed and unsurped by humans. The future of wild primates is on nature’s balancing beam. They only really survive in the top national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserved forests where there is little human influence and disturbance.
Undoubtedly, among the world’s most charismatic and vocal members of the rainforest are the gibbons. Their calls are inspirational, beautiful and scientifically fascinating. I once listened to three separate groups calling in mid-morning while trekking through Kaeng Krachan National Park. It was a beautiful moment in my travels through this forest.
Stump-tailed macaque mother and baby in Kaeng Krachan
Once while I was packing-up at the end of the road in the park to go down to the Phetchaburi River, an opportunity to catch a gibbon on film presented itself. This dark-blond white-handed gibbon all of a sudden swung out on a single bamboo and seemed like “here I am and hurry up” as seen in the lead photograph. I quickly got my camera and long lens and rested it on a sandbag at the back of my pick-up. After a few shots, it melted back into the forest. The blue skies, light and subject contrast is a wildlife photographer’s dream.
Four species of gibbon live in the Kingdom: white-handed gibbon, pileated gibbon, agile gibbon and siamang. A few hybrids have been identified where the white-handed and pileated gibbons overlap in forest habitat in Khao Yai National Park.
Dusky langur eating leaves in Kaeng Krachan
If a forest has substantial gibbon populations, it usually means the wilderness is fairly intact. But some suitable forests are becoming as rare as the animals themselves due to the deadly tandem of encroachment and poaching spreading throughout the wild primate range.
Gibbons spend their entire life in the trees. Their whooping calls can be heard over long distances and can erupt at any time during the day or night. Gibbons may start calling at 4:00am in some forests and they usually quiet down after midmorning, although they will sometimes vocalize in the afternoon. Gibbons are very active as the sun rises moving to fruiting trees. The white-handed gibbon, the most common species, is found throughout most of the country while the pileated gibbon survives only in the east. The agile gibbon and siamang live in a small pocket near the Malaysian border.
Dusky langur sitting on a stump in Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary
There are four species of langur: Phayre’s, banded, silvered and dusky or ‘spectacled’. Known also as ‘leaf monkeys’, they share the same predicament as gibbons. Langurs have slender bodies and limbs, with a tail longer than the head and torso and the species differ in coloring: black, gray, dark brown to reddish with some albino. These monkeys are eagerly hunted for their meat, blood, and for gallstones, which are valued in Chinese medicine. These nimble acrobats live in trees but descend to the ground to eat fallen fruit, drink water and take in minerals. They are one of the most sought after primates.
Five species of macaque are found in Thailand: Assamese, rhesus, stump-tailed, pig-tailed and crab-eating, also known as long-tailed. Macaques are the most common wild primates and some species live near or even within cities, usually associated with Buddhist temples where they have become habituated. Some species live in steep limestone hills and cliffs near human settlements. Pig-tailed macaques beg for food from passing motorists on the road close to the headquarters at Khao Yai. Some people who feed these creatures often receive serious bites, as these monkeys can be vicious.
Leaping langur in Kaeng Krachan
Stump-tailed macaques are probably the fiercest of the five species, living mostly in deep forest far from humans. Males have huge fangs and can inflict terrible wounds. These monkeys are terrestrial creatures foraging for food on the ground. They rarely climb trees, although have been seen in the forest canopy, most often when fleeing poachers and gunfire. Now rare in the wild, stump-tailed macaques are found in a few protected areas.
Slow loris is the smallest of Thailand’s wild primate species. Nocturnal and arboreal, they live in the trees of primary and secondary forest, and also groves of bamboo. These cuddly balls of fur are seldom found on the ground and are renowned for their deliberate, slow hand-over-hand movement while traversing a tree branch. Slow loris can be seen at night on fruiting trees in some of the top protected areas.
Stump-tailed macaque by the Phetchaburi River
Sadly, all these primates are eagerly sought after for the illegal pet trade or Asian medicine trade, and trade in baby gibbons taken from their mothers are an ongoing threat. Macaques are used in the coconut trade (the monkeys are sent up a tree to collect the nuts, usually for a food reward) and some are abused.
Dr Warren Brockelman is widely known as one of Thailand’s top scientists studying primates especially the gibbons in Khao Yai National Park. He established a study plot to monitor the gibbon’s feeding habits and ranging behavior. Other studies included plant-animal interactions and forest community dynamics on the 30-ha ‘Mo Singto’ forest dynamics plot in Khao Yai.
Pig-tailed macaque jumping in Khlong Naka Wildlife Sanctuary
Primatologist Dr Suchinda Malaivijitnond with the Primate Research Unit at the Department of Biology, Faculty of Science in Chulalongkorn University has done a lot of research on primates specializing on the long-tailed (crab-eating) macaques.
Her work in 2005 included surveys of long-tailed macaques at Piak Nam Yai Island, Laem Son National Park in Ranong Province, situated in southern Thailand. Long-tailed macaques found on the island were observed using axe-shaped stones to crack rock oysters and swimming crabs. They smashed the shells with stones that were held in either the left or right hand, while using the opposite hand to gather the meat.
Pig-tailed macaque stealing food in Khao Yai
I have mentioned many times in my stories in the past that the most important issue pertaining to the protected areas is protection and enforcement. If the forests and wildlife are looked after, they will continue to thrive. If poaching and encroachment is allowed to carry on, the Kingdom’s natural ecosystems will decline.
Positive and swift action is the only option for the Thai government in taking care of the natural resources. Better management, up-dated laws and increased funding are most imperative. Only then can the future for all of Thailand’s wild living things be definite.
Crab-eating macaque eating a bag of dry noodles
A World Heritage Site in the Northeast
Khao Yai – ‘The Big Mountain’
The concept of parks or wildlife sanctuaries in Siam dates back to the 13th century Sukhothai Period during the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng the Great who created a park known as ‘Dong Tan’ used for royal recreation and preservation. The people were also encouraged to set-up parks around Buddhist temples and other religious sites because it was against Buddhist strictures to take a life and hence all parks were havens of safety for the animals of the forests. However, from the end of the Sukhothai Period to the 19thCentury, parks and conservation declined.
Haew Narok Waterfall in Khao Yai National Park
The Royal Forest Department (RFD) was established in 1896, introducing modern management practices to forestry, especially the teak industry. However, conservation fields were not addressed in the beginning. In 1900, the first law protecting animals was the Law Governing Conservation of Wild Elephants, and thus elephants became the first species protected by a law. In 1921, the law was amended, which superseded the previous act providing better protection.
Haew Suwat Waterfall in Khao Yai
Then in 1943, the RFD began turning its attention to conservation and efforts to manage certain forests for the public’s recreational use. The department established Phu Kradueng National Park in Loei province. However, due to World War II and very limited budgets and trained personnel, the park project was shelved.
Tusker in a mineral lick close to the road in Khao Yai
In 1959, Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, Thailand’s prime minister, voiced his opinion about protecting some of the immense forests that existed in the Kingdom at the time. He made several inspection tours into the wild areas of the North and Northeast, and became impressed with the natural resources. His idea was to establish reserved areas much like Yellowstone National Park in the US and Kruger National Park in South Africa. His foresight has developed into one of the largest concentrations of protected areas in the world. At last count, there are more than 260 national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, non-hunting areas and marine national parks, plus 1,221 reserved forests situated throughout Thailand.
Tusker near the road
Sarit’s fascination with nature prompted him to establish the National Parks Committee and the Wild Animals Reservation and Protection Committee to hash out necessary protective management plans, and to select pristine wilderness areas suitable for preservation. The first new step to conserving wildlife was the enactment of the Wild Animals Reservation and Protection Act of 1960. The next law passed by legislation was the National Park Act of 1961, which really got the ball rolling. By Royal Decree, on September 18, 1962, the 2,165km2 Khao Yai National Park was appointed, becoming the nation’s first national park, thanks to Sarit and many others.
Muntjac munching on leaves by the road
The core group was made up of General Surajit Jarusaraenee, the Minister of Agriculture and General Prapas Jarusatien, who was the Minister of Interior, along with Chalerm Siriwan, the director general of the RFD and Pramual Unhanand, who was the director of the Bureau of Silviculture under the RFD. The first chief of the park was Boonlueng Saisorn. One man who was also involved in the establishment was Dr Boonsong Lekagul, who was the executive-director of the Association for the Conservation of Wildlife that was actually started up in 1951.
Muntjac male by the road in the park
Dr Boonsong, a well-to-do Thai medical physician, was also a hunter and biologist. He published scores of scientific papers and books on mammals, birds and butterflies found in Thailand. His enormous contribution to natural science was the first stepping-stone to knowledge of the natural world and a better understanding about Thai fauna. Dr Boonsong also collected wildlife specimens to document as many species as possible. He certainly made an impact on the movement of wildlife conservation.
Sambar stag in the campground
Dr George C. Ruhle, an American national park expert from the U.S. National Park Service did a survey in 1959-1960 and a report in 1964 for the ‘International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ (IUCN), and the American Committee for International Wildlife Protection’ about the forests. This work contributed to a greater understanding of Thailand’s natural heritage. He made many treks into the wilderness areas of Khao Yai, Thung Salaeng Luang and Doi Inthanon plus many others, and was instrumental in some of the first ‘national parks management plans’ that were to follow.
Banded Kingfisher by the campgrounds
After World War II, about 70 percent of the country was still covered in thick vegetation with an amazing array of wild animals and ecosystems. The first big area to be acknowledged was the primaeval contiguous forest once known as Dong Phaya Fai (or “Jungle of Fire”). This remarkable wilderness stretched from the lower Northeast all the way into Cambodia, and north to parts of the Central and north-Northeast regions. These mountain formations were created during continental uplift about 60 million years ago when the Indian Plate crashed into the Himalayas.
Pig-tailed macaque by the road
Kouprey, a rare wild cattle and now most likely extinct, lived in parts of this great forest. Large tigers preyed on abundant deer and other ungulate species that proliferated in the deep jungle. Smaller species, including clouded leopard, sun bear, gibbons, hornbills as well as many others were common. It was an impenetrable and dangerous place due to the steep mountainous terrain where no roads existed. Very few humans lived in the depths of this once great biosphere. Malaria and fierce creatures reigned supreme.
Great hornbill a its nest by the road
Before Khao Yai was formed, settlers and outlaws used slash-and-burn agriculture in the mountains, creating huge grasslands around the present-day headquarters area. Many of these people were evading the police, but they were evicted after the park was established. The government decided to establish a golf course on the grassland and bungalows to generate income, which was run by the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT). Back in the mid-1970s, I actually played golf on the links when it was opened to visitors. It was amazing seeing all those wild animals crossing the fairways. However, the “rough” was jungle, and if you did not hit the ball straight and true, it was a goner! It was a tough course to play on and I lost quite a few balls. It was, however, finally closed in 1991 at the urging of the Anand Panyarachun government.
Male muntjac jumping in front of a motorcycle at khao Khiew
In 1955, a road (Mittraphap Highway: Saraburi to Nakhon Ratchasima) was cut through the forest to facilitate the US military machine at the airbases in Nakhon Ratchasima, Udon Thani and Ubon Ratchathani provinces, as well as Phanom Sarakham district in Chachoengsao province in the Northeast. Later, another road separating Khao Yai and Thap Lan (Route 304: Kabin Buri to Pak Thong Chai) was constructed.
Muntjac jumping 2
These roads basically cut all migration routes of elephant, gaur, banteng and other large mammals established over thousands of years, and opened up virgin forest to settlement. In the meantime, Khao Yai was being encroached on from all sides and can be seen today as resorts, golf courses and agriculture that completely surrounded the park.
Muntjac jumping 3
Khao Yai (“Big Mountain” in English) is part of the Dong Phaya Yen-Khao Yai forest complex covering 6,152km2, and is also Thailand’s second World Heritage Site, which was granted on July 14, 2005 by Unesco. The complex is comprised of five protected areas – Khao Yai, Thap Lan (1981, 2,235km2), Pang Sida (1982, 844km2) and Ta Phraya (1996, 594km2) national parks, and Dong Yai Wildlife Sanctuary (1996, 312km2).
Tusker and tourist bus on the road – a dangerous situation
Khao Yai is Thailand’s third largest national park and covers four provinces including Saraburi, Nakhon Nayok, Prachin Buri and Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat). It incorporates parts of the Sankampaeng range made up of shale and sandstone at the south-east edge of the Khorat Plateau. The highest peak is Khao Rom at 1,365m and vegetation includes moist evergreen, dry evergreen, hill evergreen, mixed deciduous, dry dipterocarp, secondary forest and grassland. Some formations in the park go back more than 100 million years when dinosaurs roamed here. One set of dinosaur footprints has been found in Khao Yai on an isolated slab of red sandstone by the banks of the Sai Yai River. Some dinosaur fossils have been found close by in Thap Lan and Pang Sida national parks to the east.
Tusker on the road in the late afternoon
Today, elephants, gaur, sambar and muntjac (common barking deer) are still common, but unfortunately, only survive around the Khao Yai headquarters area for about 300km2. Years and years of degradation and poaching have taken its toll imploding towards the centre. Very few animals or birds survive in the outlying areas after many wildlife surveys done by various organisations and individuals came up with data to confirm the void. Even though Khao Yai was the first national park, it certainly has been devastated by years of minimal protective management and prolonged encroachment and poaching.
Tusker charging my truck – reverse was the only option
However, much research, training and management planning has been carried out in Khao Yai, primarily around the headquarters area. One of the first people in 1975 was Dr Chumphon Ngampongsai, who studied habitat relation of the sambar. Secondly, Dr Warren Brockelman of the US and some of his students from Mahidol University have conducted what is now the longest primate study in the world at “Mo Singto Forest Dynamics Plot” of the intricate lives and habitats of both white-handed and pileated gibbons that live together and sometimes produce a hybrid of the two species.
Philip D. Round and George Gale also carried out a bird survey in the plot. In 1978, a hornbill ecology research team under Dr Pilai Poonswad began hornbill surveys and helped increase nest sites. In the 1980s, Dr Surachet Chettamas from Kasetsart University wrote a Khao Yai park and recreation management plan, and Robert Dobias from the US also did planning at that time.
In the late-1990s, a master student, Sean C. Austin from New Mexico State University, did a survey for sympatric carnivores such as the leopard cat, clouded leopard, Asian wild dog and binturong, as well as radio-collared quite a few of them. He also used camera trap technology to build up a database.
In 1999, “Wild Aid”, now known as “Freeland”, started the Khao Yai Conservation Project including community outreach, wildlife monitoring, ranger training and park management in partnership with the Department of National Parks, and the Wildlife Conservation Society who did camera trapping and managed to catch a few tigers on film plus a multitude of other creatures.
Wild Aid also set up a team to monitor the park’s wild elephants and provided some equipment to the rangers. Another master student, Kate Jenks, from the Smithsonian Institute carried out a camera trap programme that involved an attempt to photograph carnivores in conjunction with Wild Aid from 2004 to 2007. Sadly, she camera trapped no tigers during the program but did record one set of tiger footprints in 2005.
Dr Naris Bhumpakphan of Kasetsart University sent master student Preecha Prommakul to monitor and camera-trap tigers in Khao Yai, but with a lack of data, the program was shelved. Preecha did, however, see a set of tracks around the back of a camera trap, indicating a tiger was possibly avoiding the traps.
Unfortunately, it looks as though the tiger has probably disappeared from the park. These magnificent cats have not been seen or recorded for some time now and no camera trap photos have been collected of tigers since 2001. However, reports of sightings and tracks do come in from time to time, but these are now rare. If leopards once thrived here, it was a long time ago.
Asian wild dogs are now at the top of the food chain. A large pack of more than 20 dogs devouring a sambar in one hour has been observed by a tour guide and the rangers. These pack animals are ferocious carnivores and once a feeding frenzy has begun, it’s every dog for itself. They have been consistently seen and photographed around the headquarters area.
Khao Yai is one of the best places to see wild elephants up close during the day or night. These giants can be seen along the road down to Nakhon Nayok, but from the safety of one’s motor vehicle. They also can be seen at the mineral licks set up on the grasslands. It is definitely recommended not to exit your car and strike out on foot as the elephants can become irritated and things could get dangerous, especially an encounter with a bull in musth, or a mother with a baby. Bull elephants in the park have killed several Buddhist monks in the forest meditating.
A birdwatcher friend of mine took his family out one night and was surrounded by a herd of elephants on the road. These gentle giants dented his van, costing him thousands of baht in repairs, and scaring the heck out of them while they sat motionlessly waiting for the herd to pass.
The most famous waterfalls in Khao Yai are Haew Narok, which takes a hike of about one kilometre and Haew Suwat, not far from the road. During the rainy season all of the rivers in the park become raging torrents. Quite a few elephants have been washed over the falls at Haew Narok and killed during heavy rain with swollen rivers. A temporary ranger station has been set up to ward off any elephants trying to cross during a heavy surge. There are more than a dozen marked nature trails covering about 50km for the adventurous type, but it is advised to hire a guide from the park as some are ever-changing and one could get lost in the dense forests.
During the rainy season, leeches and malaria mosquitoes are a problem. During the dry season, ticks can be irritating and dangerous to one’s health as some carry diseases. Insect repellent, leech socks and heavy clothing are the best way to ward off the bothersome creatures. But seeing the exotic mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, butterflies and other insects in their natural habitats, plus the beautiful flora is still quite good and worth the effort.
The best time to visit is during midweek. Make your bookings in advance with the department’s online website for accommodations. Food and services are good but close shop at around 6pm. One of the biggest problems facing Khao Yai is the over-abundance of visitors during the holidays and long weekends, plus excessive spotlighting during these times. There is quite a large number of buildings, bungalows and campsites, and rubbish can be a problem for the park.
Many deer and other animals have perished from foam and plastic intact by eating discarded food containers. Khao Yai as Thailand’s first national park should be a role model for all other conservation areas. Given this important heritage, increased efforts by those responsible need to be made to save this magnificent biosphere. It is a fact that, with good protection, animals and plants will make a comeback. The park has the potential and we the people need to ensure its future survival.