Raffles’ banded langurs are shy, elusive creatures that are rarely seen — except by eagle-eyed nature-lovers scouring the treetops with binoculars. So it came as quite a surprise to 13-year-old Julianne Teo to spot one from the window of her home in Yio Chu Kang, in the north-east of Singapore, early on Friday morning.
The juvenile female langur was seen looking stressed at the bottom of a drainage canal that runs between a residential area and a patch of forest in Lentor on 8 July, apparently unable to scale the drain’s steep walls.
Teo’s mother, Regina, had seen three langurs in the drain the previous day — a mother and her two offspring. One of the young females had been left behind. She was stuck in the drain overnight.
“I was worried how the monkey was going to get out,” she told Coconuts. “There was nothing for it to use to escape.”
The monkey had ignored a rope Teo had left over the side of the 3 meters-deep drain, so she called animal welfare group ACRES.
It was the second time the Teo family had sighted Raffles’ banded langurs this year — having never seen the rare monkeys before in 16 years of living in the area.
ACRES has requested that the exact location where the langur was sighted is not revealed, to avoid the monkeys being disturbed by photographers or poachers.
It is unclear how the langur became stranded in the drain.
ACRES co-chief executive Kalai Vanan Balakrishnan told Coconuts that the pruning of tree branches hanging over the canal the previous day may have hindered the monkey from climbing out.
“The sun was scorching hot and we were informed that the critically endangered primate seemed to be moving slower and getting weaker,” he said. “We had to act fast.”
Balakrishnan, with ACRES volunteers Tan Hui Min and Aaron Hyberger, used a ladder to climb into the canal to pursue the monkey.
Approaching the monkey from different sides of the canal, the team was able to catch it in a net.
The langur was checked over for injuries before she was released into the forest on-site.
“Once we released her, she took off into the trees and started calling for the others,” recalled Hyberger.
“I was totally mesmerized [by the langur],” said Tan. “She was so vulnerable, but the way her eyes were searching was so compelling and so familiar. I’m glad she got out.”
Only an estimated 70 Raffles’ banded langurs remain in Singapore.
Their numbers are believed to have grown from 40 individuals a decade ago, but local primatologist Dr. Andie Ang is concerned that their limited gene pool may hinder their chances of survival.
Ang, who is president of Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore), is working with conservation groups in Malaysia on a potential plan to introduce langurs from Malaysia to Singapore to ease the genetic bottleneck.
The langur being transported back to the forest for release. Photo: ACRES
The rare monkeys are only found in Singapore and the south of Peninsular Malaysia.
ACRES was last called about a Raffles’ banded langur in August 2021. It was found dead, having been hit by a car on Upper Thomson Road.