Journal Article


Ashni Kumar DhawaleM Ananda KumarAnindya Sinha
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Changing ecologies, shifting behaviours: Behavioural responses of a rainforest primate, the lion-tailed macaque Macaca silenus, to a matrix of anthropogenic habitats in southern India

With the uncontrolled expansion of anthropogenic modifications of the environment, wildlife species are forced to interact with humans, often leading to conflict situations that have detrimental effects for both wildlife and humans. Such interactions are escalating globally, making it crucial for us to devise strategies for both, the management of conflict and the conservation of these often-threatened species. We studied a case of potentially detrimental human-wildlife interactions between an endemic, habitat-specialist primate, the lion-tailed macaque Macaca silenus and resident human communities that has developed in recent years in the Western Ghats mountains of southern India. Primates provide useful model systems to understand the extent and nature of behavioural changes exhibited by wildlife in response to anthropogenic habitats with varying degrees of human influence. We documented behaviours, including foraging and intra-species social interactions, to examine the decisions made by the macaques as they exploited four human-modified habitats, which, for the purpose of this study, have been qualitatively characterised to include structural features of the habitat, type of food resources available and the presence of humans. Access to human-origin food, either cooked or packaged, acquired directly from homes or garbage pits, in the human-dominated habitat appeared to significantly reduce active foraging and searching for food, allowing them to engage in other behavioural activities, such as resting. Furthermore, patterns of reciprocated affiliation dissipated in certain human-dominated habitats, with individuals seeming to have adopted novel behavioural strategies, leading to altered social dynamics in the troop, possibly in response to provisioning. This study thus highlights the importance of understanding behavioural changes displayed by animals in response to human interactions; such knowledge could be crucial for the planning and implementation of management and conservation strategies for endangered species such as the lion-tailed macaque and possibly other wildlife in the increasingly anthropogenic landscapes of the tropical world.