About Toque Macaque
Known locally as the rilewa or rilawa in Sri Lanka, the toque macaque (Macaca sinica) is a reddish-brown-colored Old World monkey that is native to the island nation (hence “rillow” in the Oxford English Dictionary). It gets its name from the whorl of hair that forms at the top of the head, which is evocative of a brimless toque.
The generic name Macaca comes from the Portuguese macaco, which is of uncertain origin, while sinica means “of China,” despite the fact that the species does not occur in that country.
Toque macaques are classified into three subspecies, which are as follows:
- Macaca sinica sinica, dry zone toque macaque or common toque macaque
- Macaca sinica aurifrons, wet zone toque macaque or pale-fronted toque macaque
- Macaca sinica opisthomelas, highland toque macaque or hill zone toque macaque
M.s. Opisthomelas is similar to subsp. aurifrons, but has a long fur and contrasting golden color in the anterior part of its brown cap.
The three subspecies can be identified their head colour patterns.
Description of Toque Macaque
The face of females becomes slightly pink as they grow older. This is notably apparent in the subspecies M. s. sinica.
Distribution of Toque Macaque
Toque Macaque can be found across Sri Lanka, from the highlands of Vavuniya and Mannar to the lowlands of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Puttalam, and Kurunegala, as well as along the desert zone of the Monaragala and Hambantota districts and the arid zone of the Monaragala and Hambantota districts.
A sympatric relationship exists between the subspecies M. s. aurifrons and the subspecies M. s. Sinica in Kegalle and some portions of Kurunegala, which are located in the country’s intermediate areas. It can also be found in the southwestern regions of the island, in the Galle and Matara districts, close to the Kalu Ganga river.
M.s. Opisthomelas has lately been recognized as a distinct subspecies of M. s. opisthomelas. It can be found over the entire southwestern part of Ratnapura, as well as in the Nuwara Eliya and other surrounding districts. Additionally, it can be found in the vicinity of the Hakgala Botanical Garden and other cold-climate montane forest patches.
Behaviour and Ecology of Toque Macaque
Social structure of Toque Macaque
Toque macaque group social structures are highly structured, and dominance hierarchies exist among both males and females in toque macaque populations. A squadron can range in size from eight to forty members in total. It is inevitable that as the troop becomes too large, social tension and antagonism toward one another would rise, resulting in some members leaving. This is particularly obvious in adults and subadults, where a flock may be dominated by females. Newly designated alpha males exhibit hostile behavior toward females, prompting the females to abandon the group. Fights inside the group can result in significant injuries, such as fractured limbs and arms.
In most cases, young offspring of a troop’s dominant female will be provided with greater nutrition and shelter than their counterparts.
While in estrous, the female’s perineum turns reddish in color and swells up significantly. It serves as a signal to males that she is ready for a relationship. There is an average of 18 months between births. It is expected that the female will give birth to a single child after a 5–6 month gestation period. The baby will hold on to its mother for about 2 months. During this time the infant learns social skills critical for survival. The newborn will inherit its social standing from its mother’s position in the troop. Young males are forced to abandon their troops when they are about 6–8 years of age. This prevents inbreeding and ensures that the current alpha male maintains his position in the troop. Leaving the troop is the only way a male can change his social standing. If he has good social skills and is strong he may become an alpha male. A single alpha male can father all of the troops’ offspring.
Birth rarely occurs during the day or on the ground. During labor, the female distances herself from the group (approximately 100 m). The mother stands bipedally during parturition and assists the delivery with her hands. The infant is usually born 2 minutes after crowning. The infant can vocalize almost immediately after birth; it is important for the mother and infant to recognize each other’s voices. Vocalization will be utilized to inform the mother of imminent danger and can assist in finding each other if separated. After birth, the mother licks the infant and orients it toward her breasts. She will resume foraging behavior within 20 minutes after parturition. The mother also eats part of the placenta, because it contains needed protein. The alpha female of the group asserts her power by taking part of the placenta for herself to eat.
There is an average of 18 months between births. During this time the infant learns social skills critical for survival. The newborn will inherit its social standing from its mother’s position in the troop. Leaving the troop is the only way a male can change his social standing. If he has good social skills and is strong he may become an alpha male.
A diet consisting of 14 percent flowers, 77 percent fruits, 5 percent mushrooms, and 4 percent prey items was seen in one research of toque macaques, according to the findings. Ficus bengalensis, Glenniea unijuga, Schleichera oleosa, Drypetes sepiaria, Grewia polygama, Ficus amplissima, Ficus retusa, and Ficus retusa were some of the most popular fruit species in the area. During the wet season, it was discovered that mushrooms were extremely popular among hunters.
Toque macaques have cheek pouches that allow them to store food while eating quickly. In the dry zone, they have been observed to consume the drupes of the understory shrub Zizyphus as well as the ripe fruits of Ficus and Cordia species, among other things. It is possible that they will consume tiny creatures, ranging from insects to mammals such as the Indian palm squirrel and the Asiatic long-tailed climbing mouse, on occasion.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has designated the toque macaque as Endangered due to habitat destruction and poaching, as well as the pet trade, among other factors. It has been estimated that between 1956 and 1993, 50 percent of Sri Lanka’s forest cover was destroyed, making it an unsuitable home for the toque macaque in its natural environment. Plantations and the harvesting of fuelwood have been the primary drivers of habitat loss in the past century. During the Sri Lankan Civil War, both the Sri Lankan Army and the Tamil Tigers utilized toque macaques as target practice, and both groups were successful.
M.s. Aurifrons and M. s. Sinica is a subspecies of animals that are maintained as pets.
In conclusion, the Toque Macaque is a unique and fascinating primate species found in Sri Lanka that holds significant ecological and cultural value. With its distinct physical features and social behavior, the Toque Macaque is a remarkable animal to observe and study.
However, the population of these primates is threatened by habitat loss, human encroachment, and poaching. It is vital to implement conservation efforts to protect these endangered primates and their habitats, such as creating nature reserves, limiting human activity in their habitats, and promoting responsible tourism.
As responsible travelers, we can play a crucial role in conserving the Toque Macaque and its habitat by supporting ecotourism initiatives that prioritize the protection of these primates and their natural environment. By doing so, we can ensure that future generations can continue to appreciate the beauty and significance of the Toque Macaque in Sri Lanka.