Primates of Peninsular Malaysia

Whilst researching Malaysian wildlife I’ve recently noticed that there is no one source of content detailing the primates that are found solely in Peninsular Malaysia not including the Malaysian-Borneo states of Sarawak & Sabah. Therefore I decided to conglomerate some information into an article regarding the primates and one of the primates closely related species found solely in Peninsular Malaysia!


Long-Tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis)

Long Tailed Macaque

The Long Tailed Macaque is Peninsular Malaysia’s most successful primate, having adapted to the rapidly changing rural and urban land scape of a recent industralising nation. Their success boils down to their ability to omnivorously optimally forage and most importantly their ability to live amongst humans. The distribution of the Long Tailed Macaque ranges throughout South East Asia and can be found in: Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore & the Philippines with part distributions ranging throughout: Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand & Indonesia.

Distribution: Long Tailed Macaque

The Long Tailed Macaque can be found foraging in various ecosystems, from rainforest to mangroves and even human settlements, in some cases they are considered sacred animals of many temples which makes them a very popular tourist attraction. However this species has a second common name: Crab Eating Macaque, a term usually used for troops who inhabit coastal or mangrove areas in which they can be seen to forage for crabs.

Most troops will consist of 3-20 females, offspring and usually one dominant male. In this hierarchical system dominance pursues in both males and females separately with the dominant males usually being the father of most new born infants.

The Long Tailed Macaques success as a species has seen it invade areas which were not naturally native, which have in turn led to not only it being considered one of the World’s top 100 invasive species but also can have detrimental effects on prey biodiversity. It is also common for individuals to become extremely aggressive to humans, especially those whom live in close contact with, due to their increasing association of humans with food. Even the site of a plastic carrier bag can have these monkeys snatch & devour any edible items. If in close contact with a Macaque, make sure to look out for eye contact, their means of standing their ground is for them to show the white in their eyes with a additional smile or yawn, however this monkey isn’t happy to see you! It’s in fact showing off it’s large canines to scare and eventually charge you!

This is no innocent yawn!

Southern Pig Tailed Macaque (Macaca nemistrina)

Southern Pig-Tailed Macaque with infant.

The other Macaque species found in Peninsular Malaysia is the Pig-Tailed Macaque. This species unlike the Long-Tailed Macaque although medium sized has been recognised by the IUCN Red List as being Vulnerable. This Macaque isn’t anywhere near as successful as Malaysia’s most successful primate mainly due to it’s inability to conquer urban environments. However this buff brown monkeys distribution covers Peninsular Malaysia, southern Thailand, Borneo, Sumatra & Bangka Island.

Distribution: Pig-Tailed Macaque

The Pig-Tailed Macaque has gained its common name due to the tail being reminiscent of a pigs. Despite the small tail, these monkeys are skilled climbers and are mainly found in terrestrial environments which include Oil Palm plantations… something which Malaysia is increasingly falling in love with. Unlike most primates, the Pig-Tailed Macaque’s love water, with infants and adolescence being observed playing in rivers and pools of water. Individuals live in troops with the usual ratio of one male to 5-8 females. These large groups allow them to split and forage in smaller groups to source out as much food as possible. This omnivorous species diet consists of 80% fruit, but can also include other plant matter and even invertebrates. The hierarchy amongst males is usually determined upon strength with the females hierachy being based on hereditary (e.g. dominant females daughters will gain a high status).

Silvered Leaf Monkey (Trachypithecus cristatus)

Two adult Silver Leaf’s with bright orange infant.

The Silvered Leaf Monkey goes by many common names including the Silvery Lutung or Langur. This species is one of four langur species which can be found in the Malay Peninsular and has been recognised as ‘Near Threatened’ on the IUCN Red List. This fussy arboreal species is strictly only found in Mangrove & Coastal environments where it forages on particular plant matter. All individuals possess a three-chambered stomach, allowing for it’s high cellulose herbivorous diet, an adaptation of all langur species. The Silvered Leaf Monkey’s distribution ranges across: Peninsular Malaysia, Borneo & Sumatra.

Distribution: Silvered Leaf Monkey

Individuals are usually observed with a grey tipped, black-brown fur. Females can be identified by white hair on the groin. A troop of Silvered-Leaf monkeys can consist of 9-40 individuals which behave in a harem society. Many males once reaching adulthood will leave the troop and live alone until he can establish his own harem. These individuals have to be particularly careful of leopards, tigers, dholes & snakes, the main predators of this diurnal species.

As depicted in the photograph above, infants of this species are born with a bright orange coat, which is extremely noticeable if seen in the wild!

Dusky Leaf Monkey (Trachypithecus obscurus)

Dusky Leaf Monkey/ Spectacled Langur with infant.

This langur species is also commonly known as the Spectacled Leaf Monkey or Langur due to it’s distinguishable facial appearance. On all adult individuals, noticeable white hoops persist around the eyes and mouth giving this monkey a unique appearance compared to other langur species.

It’s distribution ranges throughout Southern Myanmar & Thailand as well as Peninsular Malaysia where several subspecies can be found, all of which can be indicated by slight variation in coat colour. Just like the Silvered Leaf Langur, infants are born with a bright orange or yellow coat, which persists until around the ten month mark.

Distribution: Dusky Leaf Monkey

The Dusky Leaf Monkey can usually be found in troops of 10-17 individual, which much like other species split into smaller groups whilst foraging. This herbivorous species however, prefers to forage upon younger leaves, unripe fruits & flowers.

This species is also listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by the IUCN Red List, which states that loss of habitat has become a major issue, mainly due to Malaysia’s habit of deforesting large areas of rainforest to clear the way for more Oil Palm plantations.

Banded Leaf Monkey (Presbytis femoralis)

Banded Surili

This ‘Near Threatened’ (IUCN Red List) species has a distribution ranging from Southern Thailand, Northern Malaysia, Singapore & parts of Sumatra. Despite being ‘Near Threatened’ it is listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ specifically in Singapore, with only 20-40 individuals believed to be inhabiting the island (depending on source).

Distribution: Banded Leaf Monkey

The species has many common names, including the Banded Surili & the Banded Langur and is known to live in troops of around 20 individuals which move across the rainforest canopy in extended lines. Individuals can be seen to have thin white hoops around the eyes and slight whitish bands across limbs and torso. This species is in serious decline due to habitat loss and inbreeding caused by small isolated populations. The population which persists in Singapore is believed to be it’s own subspecies and so important conservation action has been devised to try and sustain it’s population.

White Thighed Surili (Presbytis siamensis)

White Thighed Surili

Also known as the Pale-Thighed Surili, this species of langur distribution ranges across the Thai-Malay Peninsular, Riau Archipelago & parts of Sumatra. This species was once considered a subspecies of the Banded Surili, however has now been classified otherwise. This species is more distinct to the other langurs due to it being Peninsular Malaysia’s only White/Grey coloured langur. Much like the other species, the White Thighed Surili locomote in troops consisting of a few males and many females.

Distribution: White Thighed Surili

This species is usually found within sub-montane forests.

Lesser Apes

Siamang (Symphalangus syndactylus)

Siamang Gibbon’s in their natural environment.

The Siamang is one of three Gibbon species found in Peninsular Malaysia and is the largest of the lesser apes. This black furred, tailless gibbon can be found throughout central Malaysia, parts of Thailand & areas of Sumatra.

Distribution: Siamang

This species is listed as ‘Endangered’ by the IUCN Red List, again like many species due to habitat destruction & an increasing pet trade in which whole groups (usually 6 individuals) can be killed in order for infants to be caught, taught and shown to tourists. The intriguing feature of this species is the individuals large gular sac, which can be inflated to create the extremely loud and unique noise of a gibbon, something which is utilised to show territory ranges (usually performed between 9-10am).

Siamangs have longer arms than they have legs, this adaptation allows for sublime arboreal locomotion, enabling individuals to reach and forage on fruits (~60% of their diet) as well as vines & leaves. Individuals usually pair monogamously with groups inhabiting a territory of around 23 hectares.  Like many social primate groups, once reaching adulthood many individuals will leave the group (6-8 years old) in search for ones own breeding partner. Despite being loud vocally the Siamang actually rests for around 50% of it’s active day and generally use facial gestures to communicate with others.

Agile Gibbon (Hylobates agilis)

An Agile Gibbon with it’s noticeable facial markings

Also commonly known as the Black-Handed Gibbon, the Agile Gibbon is an (IUCN) Endangered species which can be found across Northern Peninsular Malaysia, Southern Thailand & Sumatra. It’s current endangerment is thought to be due to the increasing pet and tourism trade in many South East Asian coutries, not to mention the ever increasing fragmenting and destruction of this species natural rainforest habitat.

A noticeable trait of the Agile Gibbon is that colour variation occurs in populations, with coat colours varying from black to red-brown (similar complexion to a red panda). However males of the species can be recognised by the addition of white/grey cheeks. Much like all gibbon species, Agile Gibbons monogamously pair up and defend home territories using vocal displays.

Distribution: Agile Gibbon

White-Handed Gibbon (Hylobates lar)

Sandy-Light Brown Lar Individual

The White Handed Gibbon or Lar Gibbon is one of Peninsular Malaysia’s more charismatic primates whom show a wide range in fur colour, from dark brown all the way to a sandy, white-brown as depicted in the photograph above. It’s distribution extends from Southern points in China (possibly now extinct in this region), throughout Thailand, laos, Myanmar, the majority of Peninsular Malaysia’s rainforests and the northern tip of Sumatra.

The Lar Gibbon is primarily frugivorous, however this primate will also devour specific plant matter and insects.One morphological characteristic that seperates the Lar Gibbon from it’s relatives is the presence of large, pointy canines which are located on both jaw sets.

Family sets or troops of this species can be observed, usually deployed to engage territorial behaviours warding off competitors from the families territory range. This area is protected in the same way as many gibbons behave, by emitting early morning warding vocalisations. However Lar gibbons express this within breeding pairs of which each will have unique variations in the vocalisation. The Lar Gibbon in particular has come under much danger from poachers in many years, especially the poaching of young for the pet or tourism trade. In some circumstances young individuals will be taken after the rest of the family or troop has been killed.

Distribution: Lar Gibbon

Strepsirrhine Primate

Sunda Slow Loris (Nycticebus coucang)

The incredibly cute Sunda Slow Loris

The Sunda Slow Loris also commonly known as the Greater Slow Loris is a type of Stepshirrine primate, a family of primates which include lemurs. This species is now recognised as ‘Threatened’ due to habitat loss and an increased pet trade, which has become increasingly apparent, especially since a series of internet crazes. This species can be found throughout Peninsular Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand & Singapore.

Distribution: Sunda Slow Loris

The Slow Loris is primarily arboreal, preferring continuous dense canopies, meaning it is rarely sighted. This nocturnal omnivour will snack on: sap, nectar, fruit and even invertebrates. During the day the Slow Loris can be found resting in the canopy, sleeping in a ball of foliage. The Slow Loris is identified by it’s cute large eyes, which allow it to forage efficiently in the dead of night. The most noticeable adaptation of the Slow Loris is that is can be venomous. A defence mechanism to ward of predators has evolved in a unique way within the Slow Loris. This species has the ability to activate toxins within its mouth once it has licked glands located on it’s elbows. Slow Loris pets are being increasingly found with removed glands or teeth to stop the animals ability to have a toxic bite.

Close Relatives

Sunda Colugo (Galeopterus variegatus)

Sunda Colugo

Although not a primate,  the colugo is grouped alongside all primates in the mirorder (unranked taxonomic group) of Primatomorpha and have been classified under their own family (Cynocephalidae). The Sunda Colugo is one of two extant Colugo species, the other being known as the Filipino Colugo. This species distribution ranges across: Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore & Indonesia. The Colugo despite not being closely related to a lemar, is actually nicknamed “flying lemar” due to it’s appearance. This species is unique in the fact that is contains a large flat membrane of skin between its arms, legs and tail (neck to toe nails). This allows the Colugo to efficiently glide between trees of distances up to 100m from a 10m elevation, something which can be a spectacular site.

Distribution: Sunda Colugo

The species is usually nocturnal, when it is usually observed gliding between trees, with males occasionally chasing females. This species is strictly arboreal and only locomotes on the ground, where by it is pretty much useless, if there is no other choice. The Colugo feeds primarily on shoots, leaves, flowers and fruits found upon the trees it settles upon and can even be found within plantations, such as coconut plantations, which provide excellent open space for gliding. Despite not being threatened, the Plantain Squirrel poses a threat to the Sunda Colugo due to it’s similarities in foraging options. Frequently young Colugo’s can be spotted grappling onto their mothers abdomen and will stay there until old enough to fend for itself.


3 responses to “Primates of Peninsular Malaysia

  1. Pingback: Palm Oil production - Health concerns | GOOD HEALTH - TEA - NATURAL WELLNESS - CHINA·

  2. In Isabella Bird’s book on the Golden Chersonese in Letter XX she describes three apes. A siamang and two others whose names are not given. Her description of them is interesting and enchanting as pets or perhaps familiars of the Resident in Perak. She describes the big one as about four feet high and the small one as about 20 inches high. Would you be able to identify them? The little one , she calls a wah-wah and says that it is very pretty with small hands like a child and makes a soft’ ouf ‘ sound.

    • Hi Mrs Fisher,

      In terms of height, the slow loris is fairly small and is the only one likely to fit under the 20 inches description. In regards to the big, 4 feet is pretty large and I imagine that if wild could only fit the description of one of the gibbons.

      As for the ‘ouf’ sound, I’m unsure. All I know is that slow loris tend to make grunting or clicking sounds.

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