Many of my Facebook friends have been contacting me since the news of the culled dusky langurs in Port Dickson went viral on social media.
I am sorry if I am not replying to you, too many people and comments to handle now. My team and I are deeply saddened and disturbed by the news and doing our very best to updating everyone out there. Here, I have something to say, and I hope you guys would spend a few minutes reading this long post.
Six years ago, I started to study this beautiful Endangered species of primates, the dusky langurs (Trachypithecus obscurus). My team and I enter the forest study site in Penang to follow the langurs by sunrise, habituate them through a safe distance, and record the ecology and behaviour data of the troops of dusky langurs. I remember the time vividly when I have nearly given up following the troops, as they were afraid of my assistants and me, leaped away every time they saw us. As days passed, we could better glimpse into their lives and understand their social structure and behaviour better. The journey from studying them to raising awareness about the langurs’ habitat and conservation through a small citizen-science platform is an incredible one.
Here, I would like to highlight several keywords for my friends, understand the natural behaviour of dusky langurs, and why it is crucial for us to do our part in voicing them.
1. ARBOREAL. Dusky langurs are arboreal primate species. They live in the trees, eat in the trees, sleep in the trees, and play in the trees. Forest is the habitat to the langurs, while the remaining green spaces around our neighbourhood, are crucial for them.
2. FOLIVORE. These shy and adorable primates are folivorous, which means ‘leaf-eating species. They depend on various food plants to survive, where my team and I have recorded more than 120 species of food plants that are crucial for their diet, including our ‘Ulam’ ingredients. Hence, understanding their foodplant is critical for conserving the species.
3. SOCIAL. Dusky langurs are social primates, where they live in groups of family members, just like us. They are emotional, just like us! Group numbers around 7 to 20 individuals and the family members work together to safeguard their home ranges and young individuals.
4. LEARNING FROM OTHERS. Just like us growing up, we learn from our parents and elder peers. Dusky langurs delegate their tasks well in their social groups. They take turns allo-mothering the infants and play the roles of guiding the young individuals in foraging and surviving in the forest and human-impacted areas.
5. EMOTIONS. Animals have emotions. Dusky langurs have feelings as well. I witnessed several langur death incidents due to natural causes, where the family members would take up to days and weeks to grieve. Every incident like this hurts me deeply about how much I hope we humans, seeing our wildlife residents as emotional and intelligent beings, just like us.
6. NOT DANGEROUS. Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t mean that you should pet a dusky langur or threatening the primates as they are ‘not dangerous.’ After six years of working in the field and urban setting, I can emphasize this for an infinity time: DUSKY LANGURS ARE NOT AGGRESSIVE AND WON’T ATTACK HUMANS FOR NO REASON! The aggression of wildlife towards people is most often a consequence of feeding by people or wildlife raiding unsecured trash, which can cause the animals to become accustomed to being near people, cause uncontrolled population growth, and override the animals’ natural tendency to avoid people.
7. NATURE HERITAGE. Dusky langurs are PROTECTED species, ENDANGERED and THREATENED by habitat loss, illegal wildlife trade, and human-monkey interface. We cannot continue to provide false hopes and not looking at the roots of all problems. We need to work together to safeguard the welfare of our wildlife residents!
Dusky langurs live around us, just like other urban wildlife. We are more similar to each other than we think, and we share much more space than you imagine. Looking back at this dusky langur culling incident, why this happened? Is this the way the authority works when dealing with human-wildlife conflict? Is removal (culling) the only option?
Humane alternatives to culling, such as translocation or rehabilitation, should always be prioritized. An investigation should be done by engaging residents as citizen scientists to monitor the movement and behaviour of wildlife through a standard protocol, where problems can be identified and addressed, where the culling of Endangered primates should be considered only as a last resort after a detailed investigation and should be restricted to problem individuals (usually adult males). More transparency and communication among the authority, residents, and wildlife researchers would benefit wildlife a long, long way.
As a researcher, I work alongside several governmental bodies to benefit wildlife, from educational programmes to educate the public, getting research permits to study wildlife in the forest, to building canopy bridges for the wildlife. By practicing close collaboration and communication, we can all avoid such incidents from happening again. We only need transparency, communication, and TRUST. Our system needs improvement.
The Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 is not perfect, and we need to address the problems to encourage better changes. It is about acknowledging the problem and tackling its causes, not its symptoms. Facilitating safe spaces for humans and wildlife in urban areas starts with us. Everyone can help make a positive difference in our society by promoting peaceful coexistence among humans and wildlife.
We need Malaysians to be the eyes and ears of the wildlife. Together, we can make a difference.