If you travel to Sri Lanka, which we recommend without hesitation, it is likely that you will spend part of your time in the Cultural Triangle, discussed in more detail in a future article.

Within this area of the country you will find Sigiriya, an archaeological site located in the Matale district, near the town of Dambulla, in the Central Province. Carrying an important historical legacy, this place is also home to several colonies of a curious primate that has been was forced to frequent urban areas, for visitor’s curiosity and risk of its threatened existence, due to the relentless destruction of their natural habitat.

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

The Lion´s Rock

As shown in the picture above, the Lion´s Rock is the impressive symbol that gives name to this legendary complex, named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and the most visited historic site of the country.

Result of an eruption of hardened magma, eroded over thousands of years, this huge formation was the place chosen by King Kasyapa (477-495 AD) to establish the capital and create his palace, for its strategic position and unbeatable views of the surroundings. After the death of the monarch, however, it lost the above functions and was used as a Buddhist monastery, as had previously happened.

Aside from the stunning views – maybe not suitable for those suffering from vertigo – the network of gardens and ponds surrounding it and other factors, the complex, abandoned and rediscovered in 1828, contains some old galleries where you can see, in an excellent state of preservation, a number of interesting paintings of bare-chested women, whose origin is still unclear.

The Endangered Temple Monkey

As it happens elsewhere in Sri Lanka, especially in the area of the Cultural Triangle, it is common to meet a species of primate that has been forced to make these spaces their home, for various reasons, thus gaining the nickname of the “Temple Monkey”.

Toque Macaque, Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

It is the Toque Macaque (Macaca Sinica), endemic of the country and known by locals as Rilawa (Sinhala රිළවා). It lives in troops, sometimes numbering up to 20 members, and can be easily distinguished by an unusual whorl of hair on top of the head that grows from the central crown, being geographically variable within their range.

Although it feeds on fruits, seeds and occasionally birds and reptiles, it is often seen rummaging the garbage, showing a lack of fear of humans that requires a prudent, necessary and logical respect.

An Uncertain and Unprotected Future 

As with so many other species, the Toque Macaque population is decreasing in Sri Lanka, unfortunately, considered at risk and included on the IUCN Red List.

Being one of the greatest threats the loss and fragmentation of it´s habitat, due to development and urbanisation – together with hunting and being used as pets -, it is surprising to know that is the only endemic species without legal protection from the government Sri Lanka.

Toque Macaque, Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

The absence of forests has imposed their approach to urban areas, leading to the destruction of crops and the conflict with farmers who choose to solve the problem with traps, poison and other various forms of killing.

Given the above, considering their presence as valuable as that of the mythical Lion´s Rock and remembering the urgent need to protect it, I have chosen to devote much of this report to the primate known as Monkey Temple, another victim of our destructive patterns whose living space has been depleted, without mercy, in order to impose our greedy and corrosive presence.

Text & Photos © Nano Calvo

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