A dramatic loss of forest has led to tough times for these charismatic and highly social primates.
In the image above, photographer Anup Shah captures a beautiful yet disconcerting scene: A toque macaque (Macaca sinica) sifting through the remnants of a cooking fire in the ruins of Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka.
Since the middle of last century, Sri Lanka has lost more than half of its forest cover to family farms, firewood collection, and tea plantations, reports bioGraphic – which has been bad news for the macaques, as well as all the other arboreal creatures that call the trees their home. With such devastation to their canopy habitat, the fruit-eating primates have taken to hunting on the forest floor, raiding crops, digging in garbage piles, and even sifting through fire pits looking for food.
As you might guess, this hasn't been a very welcome development for the humans. BioGraphic writes:
Because of their propensity to raid rice fields and other crops, farmers often shoot the monkeys on sight, and the Sri Lankan army uses them for target practice. In 2008, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared the species, which lives only on the island nation of Sri Lanka, Endangered. Despite this designation, the toque macaque remains the only endemic species not protected by Sri Lankan law.
But the macaques are not without their fans ... and a growing group of advocates is turning the tide of opinion to a more favorable outlook. In 2010, the country issued a mandate to increase its forest cover from 23 percent to 36 percent. And Conservation International, writes bioGraphic "is now working with local communities to develop economic opportunities for the 15,000 people who live near existing protected areas, create new conservation areas, plant thousands of trees, and introduce alternative cooking technologies."
With new trees and plans in place to help the locals, both human and otherwise, the future of Sri Lanka's beautiful macaques is looking a little bit more hopeful. And as unwittingly pretty as the scene above may be, it's heartening to think that someday, monkeys on the island nation will no longer need to rummage through smouldering fires to fill their empty stomachs.