The monkey was high up on the jackfruit tree. It was all black except for circles of white around its eyes and mouth. It held something close to its breast, covering it with both arms. Moments later, the baby, a pale orange colour, peeked out from its mother's breast. It was startled to see me and my camera and turned back to its mother again. Several other monkeys in the group now huddled together on the branch. The father reached out several times to take the baby. Eventually the mother handed it over and the father held it close to its chest.
Bangladesh is home to ten species of primates; among them these monkeys, known as Phayre's Langur, are - quite literally - the most spectacular. The adults are black except for a white patch around the mouth and white rings around their eyes which look like spectacles. Hence their Bangla name choshma bandor.
Phayre's Langurs are found only in Southeast Asia, including Bangladesh, eastern India, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. The IUCN considers it an endangered species because of its utter and total dependence on forests which are rapidly disappearing. In Bangladesh they can be found in the forests of Sylhet – for example, Satchori and Lawacherra - and in the hills of Chittagong.
Above my head, the troop was on the move. The baby was back with the mother who used one hand to hold it tight as she moved from branch to branch. From the jackfruit tree they transported themselves to a koroi tree where they joyfully chomped on young leaves. There was one alpha male, two females and two children (the orange one and an older child.) The male was fully engaged with the females in taking care of the young.
Then a bout of sibling rivalry broke out. To attract its mother's attention the older child tried to push away the infant. But the mother, altogether focused on her infant, paid it scant attention. The child then tried a different tack: it moved away and started leaping from branch to branch, as if showing off. When it returned, its mother continued ignoring it.
I spoke with Hasan Al Razi Chayan who studied Phayre's Langurs in the forest for two years (2016-17) for his Masters in Zoology from Jagannath University. Chayan said that a group includes one alpha male and multiple females (a harem.) There is considerable affection among the adults. All the adults care for babies, for example. Agreeing with my observations, Chayan said that he never saw them fight and found them to be peaceful.
I asked him about the striking orange colour I had seen. Chayan said that infants are born with this colour. During their first year, they gradually change to black.
How large were the groups? Chayan mentioned typical groups of 4-12, but recently a group of 41 headed by one alpha male was reported in China.
Back under the koroi tree, the langurs had their fill of leaves. In less than a minute they had jumped, leaped and swung several trees away, leaving behind an empty tree standing silently over my head.
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