You are in for a treat when you visit the famous Underground Tunnel in Puerto Princessa, Palawan, Philippines. If you are lucky, you will spot the Philippine Long-tailed Macaque which is also known as the crab eating macaque (scientific name: Macaca fascicularis philippinensis). Long-tailed Macaques are generally less aggressive than their other macaque counterparts. But heed caution and follow the tips from the article, “How to Meet a Monkey” as this specific group of primates has been habituated to human presence and is rather aggressive. The group inhabiting the entrance to the Underground Tunnel were very intelligent and knew how to trick tourists out of their belongings.
But before we delve into some fun facts about Macaques, we are going to talk a bit about the Subfamily Cercopithecinae. Cercopithecine are a taxonomic grouping of Old World Monkeys that includes Baboons, Guenons, Macaques, Mandrills, Magabeys, and Patas Monkeys. Some common characteristics of Cercopithecines are an omnivorous diet, cheek pouches to store food similar to that of a hamster, and ischial callosities. Ischial callosities are located on the rear and swell during mating time . You can google it if you want to, but it’s not a pleasant sight.
Almost all Cercopithecines are found in Africa with the exception of Macaques which are also found in Asia and Gibraltar. They are semi-terrestrial which means they spend half their time resting in cliffs or trees and the other half scavenging for food on the ground . Macaques are so successful at inhabiting various environments so it is no surprise that they are observed throughout the Philippines including the far off island of Palawan.
The Philippines Long-tail Macaque gets its name from having a long tail which can be longer than the length of their head to their rump. This can range anywhere from 40 to 65 cm! Another defining characteristic of this specific macaque is a pink-brown face . They also have fur on their heads that sweeps back over their forehead creating a crest of hair on the top of their heads kind of like a mini mohawk. Both males and females have white coloration on the eyelids near the nose. On average males are larger than females . They live in groups up to 30 individuals where males have a strict dominance hierarchy over the entire group .
The most interesting thing about this primate however, is their purported predator avoidance strategy. Long-tail macaques’ natural predators are feral dogs, large cats, monitor lizards, and raptors. As they are semi-terrestrial and prefer riverine habitats, they spend their nights roosting together in trees . During the day, they spend their time foraging for food on the ground and in trees. However, if there is a predator that becomes a major threat, the Long-tail Macaque can jump into nearby water and swim to safety. Turns out humans aren’t the only good swimmers in the primate world!
In 2008, this species went from being listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as “Least Concern” to “Near Threatened” . The Philippine Long-tail macaque was abundant until the 1960s. Since that time, forest conversion processes and trapping have resulted in population declines . They are often regarded as an agricultural pest as they tend to raid crops when farms are established near their home range. As a result, they are either hunted and killed. One way to increase survival rates is for park rangers or tourists to feed them foods that are a natural part of their diet. However, this management method actually increases aggression rates between groups of macaques and the transmission of Simian Foamy Disease (don’t worry, you won’t foam at the mouth, it’s just a disease in the same category as HIV, no big deal) is more likely to occur between humans .
Even though macaques are capable of inhabiting different habitats across the world, like many other primate species their population is declining. Furthermore, as human populations continue to rise and encroach on the long-tailed macaque’s natural habitat, its interaction levels with humans is increasing and we are seeing the negative effects this has on their behavior more frequently. Though its current status is of near threatened, let’s work hard to raise awareness about this amazing primate and de-elevate its endangerment status back to least concern. After all, it’s not every day that you see a monkey free fall out of a tree and swim.
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