Is It Too Late To Save The Sarawak Langur?

Is It Too Late To Save The Sarawak Langur?

Sarawak is home to one of the rarest primates on the planet –  the Bornean Banded Langur or Sarawak Langur.

Found in dipterocarp forest, coastal forest, mangroves and riverine forest where it moves around in groups of 3-7 individuals, this beautiful creature is now threatened with extinction.

In Sarawak, small populations are found in just four locations – Tanjung Datu National Park, Samunsan Wildlife Sanctuary, Similajau National Park and Maludam National Park.

There are two morphs of the Sarawak Langur. The black morph is found at Samunsan and Tanjung Datu whilst the red morph is found at Maludam and Similajau.

From Common to Critically Endangered

The Sarawak Langur was once the most common leaf-eating monkey in the State. According to Italian naturalist Odoardo Becarri, the species was common in the early 20th Century.  And in 1949, Edward Banks, a curator of the Sarawak Museum, wrote that this was the most commonly seen Langur found on hills, plains and estuarine swamps.

Sadly, this is no longer the case. Over the last 30 years the population has declined by an estimated 80%. As a result of hunting and habitat loss the langur is now found in only 5% of its historic range.

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species the current population of Sarawak Langurs is estimated at approximately 200-500 and the species is listed as critically endangered.

However, no one really knows the population as no recent research has been conducted at any of the four key sites.

The population of the red morph at Maludam is presumed to be around 300 individuals. The current populations at other sites are unknown as previous research at these locations was conducted years ago.

Research conducted at Samunsan in 2004 & 2005 indicated there were around 120 Sarawak Langurs living there. There are, however, no population estimates for Tanjung Datu or Similajau.

There have been isolated sightings of the species in Niah in Sarawak and Danau Sentarum in Kalimantan and it was historically found in Betung Kerihun National Park in Kalimantan. However, these latter areas have been subject to heavy hunting pressure. Recently WWF researchers spotted the red morph of the species at another site in Kalimantan.

Map Bornean Banded Langur distribution

Source: Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo by Quentin Phillipps and Karen Phillipps

Fleeting Glimpses

Around 10 years ago Borneo Adventure started to offer tours to Tanjung Datu National Park. Tour groups are kept small, usually 2-6 people. Whilst there is a mix of activities on the tour, trekking on the park’s jungle trails is a highlight of the tour.

On rare occasions our guides hear the distinctive call of the Sarawak Langur. This consists of a burst of short, sharp chuckle-like sounds; a couple of notes, a pause, then a burst of 4-5 notes. Then silence.

These are very shy animals. Sometimes our guides catch fleeting glimpses of the Langurs as they move off into the forest.

Several times each year there will be lengthier sightings, with the Langurs hanging around for 15-30 minutes or so before moving off. These are rare and very special occasions.

Challenges to Survival

Unfortunately, the future of the Sarawak Langur looks challenging to say the least. Close to 95% of its historic range has been lost and continued hunting and further habitat loss continue to threaten this species.

For example, in 2018 the new Sematan-Telok Melano stretch of the Pan Borneo Highway was carved through the Samunsan Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the few sites where the Langurs remain. In addition to effectively cutting the sanctuary apart, the road flattened a hill where the Sarawak Langurs used to be commonly spotted. Furthermore, the forest linking Samunsan and Tanjung Datu has been severely disturbed.

This road has brought with it new developments including a proposed resort on a 70-acre site near Telok Serabang where the Langur is sometimes sighted. A survey undertaken in 2005 found 7 groups living near this area.

Critically Endangered Bornean Banded Langur

Can the Sarawak Langur Be Saved?

The Bornean Banded Langur could and should be an icon for Sarawak.

However, this will be a tough challenge as only isolated remnant populations remain and these in mostly small patches of protected forest in Sarawak. Of the four sites where the Sarawak Langur is found, only Maludam is of any significant size.

Certainly more needs to be done to save this species, which is so closely associated with Sarawak. As Quentin & Karen Phillipps argue in their excellent book ‘The Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo’,

“The continued survival of the Sarawak Langur depends entirely on the good will of the people of Sarawak and the future policies of the Sarawak Government.”

There is an obvious need for more research and the recent habitat disruption at Samunsan would suggest that research at this site should be a priority.

Raising awareness of Sarawak’s very own Langur would also help the cause.

How many Sarawakians are aware of this creature?

Perhaps it is time for relevant government agencies; NGOs such as WWF Malaysia and WCS Malaysia; and local research institutes such as UNIMAS to take greater interest in the Sarawak Langur.

We are currently in the early stages of reaching out to others to bounce ideas around to see what can be done to help this species.

If you have any ideas or suggestions or know someone who could help, please email us at info@borneoadventure.com.

Scientific NamePresbytis chrysomelas
Common NamesBornean Banded Langur, Sarawak Langur, Sarawak Surili,
Population200-500
DistributionIsolated populations in Samunsan, Tanjung Datu, Similajau and Maludam.
ICUN Red List StatusCritically endangered
ThreatsHunting & habitat loss
Further ReadingIUCN Presbytis chrysomelas

Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo by Quentin Phillipps and Karen Phillipps

Ranging Patterns of Critically Endangered Colobine, Presbytis chrysomelas chrysomelas by Ahmad Ampeng and Badrul Munir Md-Zain

Thanks to Chien C Lee for allowing us to use the photo of the Sarawak Langur at the top of the page. To view more of Chien’s wildlife photography visit his website.

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