Celine: “Discovering the Dusky Langur’s Mansion” – One step closer to conserving wildlife

The most unforgettable memory in the field was the time

when we witnessed a “mourning behavior” by the Dusky Langurs.

We all know how choices lead to consequences. So, we weigh a lot of things in our head before making a decision, don’t we? When people ask me, “what do you plan to do after getting this degree?”, or “if you continue with this field, will there be a good future?” Notwithstanding their apparent skepticism, I often come to my sense by combining both “what” and “if”. What if there’s no one continue to protect wildlife? What if people lose their care about the environment eventually? I will tell myself, if no one is conserving wildlife, I will

Throughout these years in the wildlife conservation field, I received different perspectives from friends, families and people that I worked with. Most of them inspired me to move further in this path, but of course, some of them disagree with the work I am passionate about, too. Well, I was quite determined to do what I can in raising conservation awareness among my peers, but most of all, I wish that my actions can empower more people to contribute to our precious wildlife.

My LPP journey started in June 2020, the time when we were all under movement control order (MCO) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although I studied Conservation Biology, I did not have a chance to learn more about primates until I came back to my hometown, Penang for my internship at The Habitat Foundation, Penang Hill. The first time when I spot a Dusky Langur up close, my heart skipped a beat. It was eating leaves on the tree, but it was the pair of “glasses” around the eyes that got my attention. 

A dusky langur in The Habitat, Penang Hill

I got curious about this animal and explored the internet for more information, which then led me to LPP. I had been following LPP’s work since then, and I usually spared some free time to find the Langurs in Penang Hill during my internship. At the end of my internship, I came across an LPP’s Facebook post looking for volunteers to contribute to virtual content creation. Having an interest in this field, I approached Jo Leen to be part of the team. 

When the MCO was lifted, Jo Leen assigned me to work in the field. On my first day after months of “Working from Home”, it was an exciting start in the Cherok Tokun Nature Park, Bukit Mertajam together with Jo Leen and my field partner, Jieh Long. This place reminded me of my younger days of hiking. Never did I realize that the Dusky Langurs are one of the inhabitants in this pristine rainforest. I never know how are behavioural studies carry out in the field. Most of the field techniques I understood were behavioural studies on captivated wildlife. Being a beginner, I went through the experience in the field, from hiking to climbing trees to get a better view of the Dusky Langurs. Everything was new to me, which doubled the excitement! 

It was a challenging first month as the Dusky Langurs had not been “followed” during MCO. They were very alert whenever they sensed humans got too close to them. The first thing that I learned from the field is habituation. It is a process of wildlife getting used to our presence during observation works. Duskies were required to wear a white colour shirt for easy recognization by the Dusky Langurs. We followed the Langurs from 7 am to 2 pm, recording their behaviour, such as feeding, playing, but most of the time they were resting.

Most of the time during the habituation, I only can see their back view…
Dusky langurs are folivores. Here, Ah Pah the alpha male was feeding on young leaves of star fruit.
Little one awakes early for delicious meal!

I loved their facial expression, one of the fun things that I enjoyed in the field was becoming “professional” dialogue writers. Whenever we saw the langurs interacting, our minds naturally came up with dialogues based on their actions. For instance, when they were feeding on fruits, and their faces were covered with the fruit dirt, they never cared. I guess that’s the perks of being in the wild, you don’t have to be fear or embarrassed to eat in public. 

As much as I hate to admit, it wasn’t all fun in the field. The first time I went to field in Tropical Spice Garden, I think Jieh Long and myself were like mosquito magnet, let us agree that this was the so-called “coexistence”, right? Well, the itching naturally faded when the Teluk Bahang’s Dusky Langur group got so near to us, and we got to name a newly born infant. We came out with the name “Ah Keong” (meaning Strong in Hokkien dialect), because the little fellow was born during MCO, so we were sure he will be a strong leader someday as he braved the pandemic together with us. We always came across hikers and visitors asking what were we doing in the forest early morning. Some of them were curious about our work, some were doubtful, yet some were open-minded when we explained to them about the importance of wildlife studies and their roles in contributing to biodiversity conservation. 

One thing was for sure, we tried our best to follow the Dusky Langurs. I remember Jo Leen thought that both I and Jieh Long were capable to do our fieldwork without her guidance. She asked us, are you afraid of getting lost in the jungle? Despite the fact that we could always rely on the GPS, I admitted feeling afraid if we got lost in Tokun Hill, because my sense of direction was not that well. She said: “Don’t worry, as long as you follow the Dusky Langurs you will definitely find your way back.” Well, it was true! But, of course, this doesn’t apply whenever you got lost in any forest. This was partly because the Dusky Langurs’ home was close to the entrance of Tokun Hill. 

The group that we were following was known as the Gar-Star group. Somehow it felt like the forest in Cherok Tokun was the Dusky Langurs’ mansion. Picture this, in the beginning, it felt like we were just wandering around their lawn, and partly looking for fruiting trees such as starfruit, rambutan and Terap nasi that they loved to hang around. Sometimes, when they were shy or not in the mood of being “stalked”, they wandered off other areas and we weren’t able to follow them the whole time. 

Indulging myself in the Dusky Langurs’ Mansion.
My fieldwork buddy, Jieh Long.

A few weeks later, we got “invited” to their home, as if they weren’t affected by our presence anymore and got comfortable doing their own routine. To me, it felt like we gained their trust and built an invisible bond with the Dusky Langurs because we were coexisting peacefully. Me and Jieh Long were sharing our thoughts and life during the fieldwork while the Dusky Langurs were just chilling on the tree, with one or two long-tailed macaques joining the family.  As the langurs starting to get habituated again, we noticed that even the female Dusky Langur carrying its infant, who was once very protective and tended to be on higher trees, have started to build “trust” in us that we will not harm its child. From observing them afar to a distance where binoculars were no longer needed, I was really glad to have this experience.

Ah Chiam, the elder female, and her son, Ah Long.
The bonding between Ah Chiam and Ah Long is wonderful.

Personally, I enjoyed observing the infant Dusky Langurs, they were active at all times, and just like us when we were young, annoyed the “Duskiness” out of their mommies. Well, reading up to this point, if you thought that my fieldwork was entirely about the Dusky Langurs, you were mistaken. I’ve gained interesting knowledge about sympatric species, such as the racket-tailed drongo, long-tailed macaques, and edible fruit plants that can be great survival food if I got lost in the wild.

Yiyi lost her new born infant.

The most unforgettable memory in the field was the time when we witnessed a “mourning behavior” by the Dusky Langurs. It happened when an infant Dusky Langur fell from the tree, wounded, and eventually died. The moment the infant fell, its mother (named Yiyi) immediately went to carry its infant. We didn’t realize any unusual reaction as we proceed with our fieldwork. However, it became clear to us that the infant was inactive, and Yiyi was holding it while moving together with its group. After a few hours, while the group was feeding together, we saw Yiyi isolating itself from the group with one hand holding its child. We stood there observing for a few hours when it sat on a slanted bamboo shoot looking at its child almost every minute. Despite that the infant was already lifeless, Yiyi still groomed and checked on it. Two days later, we went back to the field, and Yiyi was still holding its infant, and later that day, Yiyi left the infant on a tree branch and moved on with its group. At the moment, I was overwhelmed by a wave of thoughts and emotions. If wildlife mourned for their child’s death due to a fall accident, imagine when their newborns were taken by poachers, imagine when their infant fell to the street while crossing electric cable and got hit by a car. If losing our loved ones was heartbreaking for us, it is just the same feeling for the wildlife as well. You can read more about this story at https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=698884234278782   

Being one of the selected candidates under the Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots Malaysia Award 2020, I chose to volunteer under the Malaysian Primatological Society and continued my work with Langur Project Penang. It was an honour to be part of this project and organization, and I wanted to make an impact on LPP. Hence, I proposed to develop a website for LPP to document the works done by Duskies and LPP’s achievement in the past few years. I was blessed that Jo Leen had faith in me because this was my pilot project to develop a professional website. It was a rare opportunity for me. I will always be grateful for that. 

I was delighted when my family expressed their interest in this project when I brought them for an exclusive “environmental educational tour” in Cherok Tokun one morning. The reactions when they spotted the Langurs were priceless. This is the work that I am proud of, and I will always be. 

WE ARE ALL WORKING FOR A PURPOSE. FOR MONEY. FOR LIFE. FOR FAMILY. It could be many reasons other than those, but I am glad I have one more – FOR WILDLIFE. Quoted from Dr Jane Goodall and will always be my inspiration, WE ARE THE REASONS FOR HOPE

THE DUSKY FAMILY

Signing off,

Celine

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