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Monkey business - Visit the Taiping Zoo to get up close and personal with all the different primates

06 September, 2008
By CHAN AH LAK

Visit the Taiping Zoo to get up close and personal with all the different primates.

Ask any senior resident in Taiping, and they will tell you stories of the Monkey Forest during their younger days.

In the middle of the Taiping Lake Gardens, there used to be a jungle, with a track running through it that was a favourite haunt of courting couples.

In the 1880s, tin miners dug up the surrounding grounds, creating the present lakes, but left this green patch alone.

Couples who came here, however, had to contend with peeping toms on the ground as well as from above because four species of monkeys made their home here: the Long-tailed Macaque, the Pig-tailed Macaque, the Dusky Leaf Monkey or Langur, and the Banded Leaf Monkey.
A Siamang is identified by its larger size and a completely black face. -CHAN AH LAK

Monkeys everywhere

These primates make fascinating studies. The greyish Long-tailed Macaque or Crab-eating Macaque is the smallest of the four species. Highly intelligent and mischievous, it is found all over the country. Unattended bags, even in cars with windows wound down, would be pilfered.

In Bako National Park, Sarawak, visitors are advised to lock their windows when they leave their chalets. When the staff was asked why there wasn’t a notice on the door to warn visitors, the reply was, “The monkeys read the notice, then they will pull it down!”

The Pig-tailed Macaque is bigger than the Long-tailed Macaque. They move in a troop led by a dominant or alpha male. They are fearless and very aggressive and do not hesitate to snatch bags from visitors. When threatened, they bare their fangs in defiance.

This animal is responsible for many attacks on humans.

In the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sabah, where the giant apes are fed twice a day at a feeding platform by two park rangers, numerous Pig-tail Macaques join in the feast too. According to a tourist guide, when the alpha male comes in, even the rangers will leave the platform immediately for their own safety!

The Dusky and Banded Leaf Monkeys are mainly leaf eaters and are more peaceful creatures. They are quite shy and occasionally come to the ground. The Dusky is almost black with two white “spectacles”. Dusky babies have orange fur. The Banded is greyish black with incomplete pale “spectacles” and white around the mouth. Both have tails much longer than their bodies.
Chilling out: Stump-tail Macaques with white baby.

Role of the Taiping Zoo

In 1994, the Monkey Forest became the site of Taiping Zoo, and parts of this forest became home to primates other than the original “Gang of Four”. The Orangutan, the three species of gibbons found in Peninsular Malaysia, namely the White-handed Gibbon, the Agile Gibbon or Black-handed Gibbon, the Siamang and the Stump-tail Macaque are the five new inmates.

The original forest was put to good use for displaying the animals instead of being cut down. Gibbons cannot swim, so four man-made islands were created to provide a natural setting for them instead of confining them to cages. Macaques are good swimmers, so the Stump-tail Macaques are exhibited in a big covered enclosure with a glass front.

The long-armed gibbons feed in the tall canopy, so they are difficult to see in the natural habitat. More often you can hear them - their raucous calls in the morning are quite distinct. You can hear their calls too if you visit the zoo in the morning.

Researchers from Japan came to tape their calls and study them for several days. Gibbons are found in the jungle throughout Malaysia, except the Agile Gibbons which are confined in an area between the south of Sungei Muda in Perlis and north of the Perak River and certain areas in Kelantan.

The White-handed Gibbon is a misnomer - all the three gibbons have black skin on their palms and soles, but the White-handed gibbon has white fur on the dorsum of their hands and feet. The fur on the body can range from cream to brown and even black, but the “white” hand is always the distinguishing feature.

Both the Siamang and Agile Gibbon are black in colour. The Siamang is identified by its larger size and a completely black face compared to the paler face of the Agile Gibbon.

The Stump-tail Macaque, characterised by a bald stump for a tail is found only in the northern part of Malaysia, close to the Thai border.

The Perlis State Park is the best place to see them in the wild. However, there is no guarantee of a sighting as these macaques often cross the border into Thailand in search of food. As they mature, the adults develop a maroon face.

The 16 Stump-tailed Macques in the Taiping Zoo form the largest troop in captivity in Malaysia. Two colour variations are seen -grayish black and brown. In contrast, a newborn is covered in white fur.

The orangutan is the largest primate in Malaysia and found only in Borneo. Humans share 96% of the orangutan’s DNA. The zoo acquired two females and one young was born after their arrival. There is no male in the zoo.

Eight chimpanzees including two young ones, lemurs from Madagascar, and South American tamarins are some of non-Asian primates on exhibit. The nocturnal slow loris in the zoo is also a primate.

Members of the “Gang of Four” are not displayed in any enclosures in the Taiping Zoo. They are given a free run of the zoo, but of course they will give the Tiger Island a wide berth!

The Long-tailed Macaque and the Pig-tailed Macaque are often seen outside the zoo entrance and car park begging for food. The Dusky and Banded Leaf Monkey prefer feeding on the leaves of the tall trees at the side or back of the zoo.

Coming home: White-handed Gibbons has made this island into its home.

The missing link

The Taiping Zoo offers visitors an opportunity for a close encounter with our distant relatives in a near natural environment. The primates sleep at night, so the best time to visit them would be in the early morning to see them feeding and hear their calls.

After observing them at such close range, the differences between a monkey and a gibbon, or a chimpanzee and an orangutan should be clear. So if you encounter someone calling you a “Monkey”, you should ask “Which one?”

And if you receive a puzzled look in return, ask this person to go to the Taiping Zoo to get his facts right first!

Taiping Zoo

Taiping Zoo’s visiting hours: 8.30am till 6pm (last entry)

Adults RM5.00 Children RM3.00

Night Safari 8pm -11pm, extended to midnight on Saturdays and eve of public holidays

Adults RM10.00 Children RM6.00

Group discounts are available on official request.

 -- The Star --

 
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