You would think that being around fewer individuals would lead to fewer conflicts. People often leave their crowded hometowns to find peace in isolation. I was no different, leaving New York to pursue monkey pictures in the forests of Kerala. As a mere guest in the vast and rather daunting range of these thick forests, I was grateful to have been able to capture some brilliant lion tail macaques photographs. Back when the forest was a more lush habitat, it was harder to even spot a lion-tailed macaque. Often drowned out by the booming voices of their howler monkey neighbors, these shy animals are rather small and quiet. They spend so much of their lives in the high treetops, that they are considered the only truly arboreal macaques on earth. However, their selective living conditions do set them up for conflicts, despite their small population and rather shy disposition.


People tend to pass off some animal behavior as arbitrary and unintentional. Why do animals have certain mating behaviors? Do they migrate to some places and not others? Why do they fight with some individuals only? The answers might be vague unintentional responses that most people assume based on the notion that animals simply react to things. While there is definitely some reacting to their environments that are important, animals do make rational decisions. In the case of these lion-tailed macaques, their scuffles might seem to be unprovoked or directed at whatever creature in the way. A closer look will reveal that even animals have more human-like responses to the stimuli in their lives. 

I was in Kerala photographing these primates for my picture art. Lion-tailed macaques were not often portrayed in monkey pictures and there was likely a reason why. I soon discovered that it was because of how difficult it was to spot these elusive creatures. Their arboreal nature limited them to the treetops of the lofty forest habitats. Sadly, this left a couple of dozen feet of distance between my subject and I. Even with this challenging factor of this photography expedition, I was able to observe a group of lion-tailed macaques.

The troop I was lucky enough to encounter was fairly small and seemed to have the typical hierarchy of dominance in its members. The bigger older animals were dominated by smaller and younger animals. Within the lower-ranking members there seemed to be a greater scuffle in who would rise above their current status. I was particularly interested in the dynamic between two younger males in the troop for my monkey pictures. While both didn’t have much superiority over the rest of the monkeys, they seemed to be in a battle to outrank each other.


The smaller monkey seemed to be less interested in the power struggle. While the larger one taunted and provoked him intermittently. I was expecting the smaller one to give in to the constant bullying and either get hurt in the fight or be scared away. This seemed to be the plan of the larger one, as he circled the underdog, his bushy tail following his mischievous antics. 

Had I spotted this dance at that moment, it would have looked like two animals just releasing their aggression with whoever was closest. But all my years of observing and understanding animals for my photography has taught me that their actions are usually well calculated. Most animals can’t afford to waste precious energy on pointless displays or behaviors. These monkeys knew exactly what they were doing and why they were doing it. The smaller monkey had decided that it wanted to stand up for itself, something I was rather relieved to see. There is always a moment of triumph when an underdog stands up for himself in the face of a rival.

As I had hoped, the underdog pushed back and even the defensive aggression he displayed was enough to startle his bully back into submission. This display of aggression was the perfect dynamic for my monkey pictures and would make for dramatic picture art.  A short tussle later, all seemed to be restored to peace again. Both monkeys settled back down into their roles and accepted their ranks. I thought about how these animals were able to defend themselves against each other. But in the face of an outside threat, there was little they could do. When the threat was humans, these creatures were unfortunately helpless and tragically declining in numbers.


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