The population of spectacled monkeys, also known as Phayre's Leaf Monkeys, has fallen sharply. This species of monkey is among four primate species across the world that were declared critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2015.
Bangladesh has lost 80% of its spectacled monkeys in the last three generations (10-12 years in a generation). But it is a matter hope that around 400 endangered spectacled monkeys survive in six forests in Moulvibazar and in Habiganj under Sylhet division, says a study conducted by a research team from Jagannath University's (JnU) Zoology Department for two years on this type of monkey.
Tanvir Ahmed, leader of the research team, said the study conducted from 2018 to 2019 showed that 376 spectacled monkeys in 36 troops lived in the five forests in Moulvibazar and in Habiganj. He said that local people have also sighted 30-35 spectacled monkeys in four troops at Sagarnal forest under Juri upazila. That means there are around 400 spectacled monkeys living in Sylhet Division.
He added that during their study, the team found 126 spectacled monkeys in 10 troops in Lawachara National Park, which was more than the number found in the Patharia Reserve Forest in Moulvibazar and the Rema-Kalenga Wildlife Sanctuary in Habiganj.
The team of researchers under the supervision of Dr Habibun Nahar, Assistant Professor of Zoology, carried out the study in the Lawachara, Adampur, Patharia and Sagarnal forests in Moulvibazar and Satchari, and the Rema-Kalenga forests in Habiganj.
The JnU research team said a joint research team from the University of Wales, UK and the Bangladesh Department of Forests did a study in 1982 on spectacled monkeys in Bangladesh. The study found that there were 1,300 of these animals in existence at that time.
Later, in 1984 professor Dr Farid Ahsan, in his M Phil research paper, wrote that there were 1050 spectacled monkeys in Bangladesh. A report titled "Status of South Asian primates: Conservation Assessment and Management Plan" of a study held in India in 2003, stated that there are only 100 Phayre's Leaf Monkeys in Bangladesh and of those, 50 are adults. That means, Bangladesh has lost 80% of this type of monkeys to date.
Researchers think the numbers were significantly underestimated in the 2003 study in comparison to the data of 1982 and 1984. If this species is dying out at this rate, it could get completely wiped out in just two or three more generations.
Assistant Professor of Zoology at Jagannath University, Habibun Nahar, said, "Deforestation is the main reason for the reduction in the number of spectacled monkeys. The forest is being divided into many smaller sections by building roads through them, and the cutting down of trees which are threats to the existence of this type of monkey."
Tanvir Ahmed said, "Power supply lines through the forests are also another threat to the endangered species. Eight Phayre's leaf monkeys got electrocuted between 2016 and 2019 in Lawachara, Patharia and Satchhari. Five of them died on the spot. If they aren't protected now, they will be wiped out soon."
He said initiatives have to be taken immediately to save this endangered species.
Tanvir Ahmed also said that spectacled monkeys are very useful in nature. They are primarily vegetarians who eat leaves, flowers, fruits, and insects. These monkeys play an important role in spreading seeds to different areas of the forest which gives new life to the forests. So, the extinction of this species will pose a serious threat to the natural diversity of forests in Bangladesh.
The scientific name of the 'Spectacled monkey' 'Phayre's leaf monkey' or 'Phayre's Langur' is 'Trachypithecus phayrei'. It is locally known as hanuman. They have white circles around their eyes. Most of their body is black. They are listed as an endangered species. They usually live in forests of Chattogram and Sylhet divisions. They are also found in India, Myanmar, China, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.
Divisional officer (Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Department) Abdul Wadud said, "We have already written to the departments concerned, including Roads and Highways, regarding roads through the forests. Alternative measures have been taken to settle the problem. Poachers are still active even though there is strict surveillance. But we are trying our best with our existing manpower."