Disclaimer: Written before lockdown.

I think monkeys belong in horror movies. They look cute and cuddly from the back, and then they turn around with a horrible human face. But looking like us is the least of their problems, and they deserve more of our help and attention.

The Javan langur, lutung or ebony leaf langur, for instance, is often overlooked despite the wardrobe change.

Sensibly sticking to the safety of the trees, it leaps about in most kinds of Indonesian forest, and such sprightly adventures might explain the bed hair. While the adults are black, the babies are bright apricot, and in very rare cases in eastern Java, they keep the gold fur and freckles into adulthood.

Photo by Ouwesok.

Of course, having a bright orange baby helps Mum and the other females keep an eye on it.

 It would attract predators too if they weren’t almost extinct.

The Javan tiger and Javan leopard were probably some of the reasons the Javan langur stays up trees, but a combination of poaching and habitat loss saw the tiger wiped out in the 1970s and the leopard on a knife edge. The only other natural predator is the Javan hawk-eagle, but wouldn’t you know it, its days might be numbered too.

That leaves just one predator, and the main reason for its “Vulnerable” status.

Its bushmeat, which cures asthma, impotence and mortality, apparently, is one reason this long-tailed monkey is yanked out of its habitat. Another is people wanting an adorable bright orange “baby” as a pet. The Javan langur doesn’t massively help its cause because while it’s good at hiding and has a shrill, anti-human alarm call, it doesn’t make the fastest getaway.

Someone who is all too aware of this is reformed langur hunter Syamsul, who now helps rescue and rehabilitate several species of them at the Javan Langur Center in East Java.

Some of his previous jobs include whistling to distract hunting dogs, raining stones down on other hunters, and spreading conservation awareness through grass puppetry.

While he’s helping to change local culture, it’s obvious the rescued langurs need a shift in their own. As Syamsul himself puts it:

Those born in captivity or captured young have lost foraging and survival skills. This is why we keep visitors away [from their enclosures]. The langurs need to discover distrust.

Being a cute pet in a cage or tied to a post is also, obviously, at odds with how a Javan langur lives in the wild.

It really does take a village.

Your usual Javan langur family numbers about 7, with 1-2 males and the rest female. How do you tell them apart? You’ll have to subtly look at the females’ lady parts for any white markings.

No, she’s not going to show you!

Childcare is shared among all the females, so a new baby finds itself right in the thick of society. If captured as a pet, it therefore loses all social contact, and those at the rescue centre apparently don’t know how to relate to the others.

What about the males in the group? They’re not involved in any parenting, but since there’s no competition for dates within the troop, they’re basically wing-men and rarely aggressive. The females, on the other hand, can be aggressive toward other groups of females.

Having said this, they can put aside their differences when eating.

You can probably guess why the Javan langur is called a leaf-eating monkey. The problem is that leaves aren’t exactly nutritious, and thanks to all the cellulose and other dietary drags, they can be a pain to digest. The Javan langur therefore has enlarged saliva glands and four stomachs to cope with them. Groups have been observed eating together, so it clearly picks food over a fight.

It does also dip into fruit of a season – both ripe and unripe – but it’s thought that’s mainly to get to the seeds. In any case, it knows what it likes, as some researchers have reported them snubbing food offered by tourists, and the free-ranging langurs in Singapore Zoo mostly lived off foraging.

We’ve made a few attempts to divide the Javan langur into subspecies as well – for instance due to the eastern Javan gold morph – but as far as genetics go, it’s still one happy, friendly family of Old World monkeys. Unfortunately, we need to convince it to go away before we take it away.


Latin: Trachypithecus auratus

What? Black or (rare) golden monkey with bed hair and sideburns.

Where? Indonesia, in coastal, mangrove, tropical and dry forests.

How big?  From 44-65 cm / 17.3-25.6 inches long, with a tail of 61-98cm / 24–38.6 inches on top.

Endangered? Considered Vulnerable due to a restricted range, habitat loss, illegal poaching and capture for the pet trade.

Probable motto: My baby needs attention, but not from you.

They look cute. Do they need my help at all?

Poaching for traditional remedies and pets are probably the biggest dangers, but deforestation isn’t exactly a laugh a minute either. It’s been a protected species in Indonesia since 1999, and it’s “accidentally” covered by conservation campaigns aimed at other animals and environments. Nonetheless it could always use more love.

The Aspinall Foundation has a reintroduction programme for Javan langurs, and the Wildlife Conservation Society has a range of projects in Indonesia.

Just to prove I’m not fibbing:

The Aspinall Foundation. 2016. “Largest group of Javan langurs ever sent #backtothewild!“. YouTube.

Cannon, William, and Vos, Abby. No date. “Trachypithecus auratus“. Animal Diversity Web.

Dröscher, Iris, and Waitt, Corri D. 2012. “Social housing of surplus males of Javan langurs (Trachypithecus auratus): Compatibility of intact and castrated males in different social settings“, Applied Animal Behaviour Science 141(3-4):184-190.

Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. No date. “Langur“. Britannica.com.

Funk, William H. 2016. “Where have all the lutungs gone?Mongabay.

Graham, Duncan. 2017. “From animal hunter to animal rescuer“. The Jakarta Post.

Groves, Colin Peter. No date. “Monkey“. Britannica.com.

Irwanto, Dhani. 2019. “Sundaland: tracing the cradle of civilizations“. Indonesia Hydro Media.

Jablonski, Nina G., and Tyler, Donald E. 1999. “Trachypithecus auratus sangiranensis, A New Fossil Monkey from Sangiran, Central Java, Indonesia“, International Journal of Primatology 20(3):319-326.

Javan langur“. No date. Aspinall Foundation.

Javan langur, Trachypithecus auratus“. No date. New England Primate Conservancy.

Lehman, Shawn M., and Fleagle, John G. 2006. “Primate biogeography: progress and prospects“. Springer.

Nijman, V. et al. 2000. “Breeding Biology of Javan Hawk-eagle Spizaetus bartelsi in West Java, Indonesia“, Emu – Austral Ornithology 100(2):125-132.

Nijman, V. & Supriatna, J. 2008. “Trachypithecus auratusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species” 2008: e.T22034A9348260.

Sha Chih Mun, John et al. 2013. “Benefits of Naturalistic Free-Ranging Primate Displays and Implications for Increased Human–Primate Interactions“, Anthrozoös 26(1):13-26.

Wedana, Made et al. 2013. “Reinforcing the isolated Javan langur population in the Coban Talun Protected Forest, East Java, Indonesia“, Wild Conservation 1:31-39.


Featured image credit: “Frontal portrait of a juvenile ebony langur” by abzerit.