Endangered: The Purple-Faced Langur in Sri Lanka

Dr. Rudy Rudran, Scientist Emeritus, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, in Island, 16 November 2019, with this title “Sri Lanka’s purple-faced langur is among the world’s 25 most endangered non-human primates”

The IUCN’s Primate Specialist Group (PSG) has again included Sri Lanka’s purple-faced langur in its list of Primates in Peril. This listing provides details on the 25 most endangered non-human primates in the world and is published every two years. It has included the purple-faced langur since 2004, when the IUCN classified its western sub species as critically endangered due to extensive deforestation of its lowland rainforest habitat. Deforestation threatens the survival of this subspecies because it relies almost exclusively on tree canopies for movement and for its diet mainly of leaves.

Deforestation also threatens the survival of the other three purple faced langur subspecies, especially after the country’s 26- year civil war ended in 2009 and the pent-up desire for rapid economic development led to widespread agricultural expansion. As a result, they too were included in the list of Primates in Peril during the 2016 PSG meeting in Chicago, USA. All four subspecies have remained there ever since, and the latest listing was presented to the public at a PSG meeting held last month in Abu Dhabi to launch the most recent edition (2018-2020) of Primates in Peril.

The purple-faced langur is not only endangered but also endemic to Sri Lanka, which means that it is not found anywhere else in the world. Therefore, its endangerment threatens the reduction of global biological diversity and places the onus of averting this calamity on Sri Lanka and its people. Furthermore, deforestation triggered by extensive agricultural expansion in 2009 also resulted in the displacement of the other two endemic monkeys, the macaque and the tufted grey langur. These displacements precipitated human-monkey conflicts in recently established crop lands throughout the country. Thus, the survival of these monkeys is currently impacted by deforestation as well conflicts with humans.

The government’s Department of Wildlife Conservation is too small and poorly funded to protect these monkeys or address the public outcry that demanded a solution to the human-monkey conflict. Therefore, it collaborated with the SPEARS Foundation, a local NGO to conduct several workshops and develop a comprehensive plan to conserve and coexist with monkeys, and thereby promote the agency’s official mandate.

These workshops were conducted from September 2014 to March 2016 and attended by the staff of numerous government agencies, universities and NGOS. They produced an action plan that was submitted to the Sri Lankan government for cabinet approval. More than three years have passed with very little action by government authorities. However, the SPEARS Foundation’s staff has dealt with several important elements of the plan like collecting information on financial losses due to crop damage in order to develop a compensation or insurance scheme for such losses.

It is hoped that the recent inclusion of the purple faced langur in the list of Primates in Peril will help activate the Sri Lankan government to take effective steps to safeguard the country’s biological diversity.

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