Northern Pigtail Macaque Macaca leonina


The Northern Pig-Tailed Macaque (Macaca leonina) is a species of primate in the Cercopithecidae family. It is found in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. Traditionally, it has been considered a subspecies of M. nemestrina. In India, it is found in south of the Brahmaputra River, in the north eastern part of the country. Its range in India extends from Assam and Meghalaya to eastern Aruanchal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura. A detailed report on the ecology and behaviour of northern pig-tailed macaque has been published recently.


As its name suggests, this Macaque is characterised by its short, ‘pig-like’ tail, which it normally carries in an erect backward arch over the back, with the tip partially resting on the rump. This species resembles the Sunda Pig-Tailed Macaque (Macaca nemestrina), but is smaller in size and has comparatively short limbs and face. The Macaque possesses a relatively long, uniformly agouti golden-brown coat, with markings confined only to the brown crown, buff-coloured cheek whiskers and the red streak extending from the outer corner of each eye. A distinct tuft of hair also exists at the end of the tail. Young are a blackish colour when born, but juveniles are rather more brightly coloured than adults.

This species occurs in Eastern Bangladesh, Cambodia, Southern China (Southwestern Yunnan), north-eastern India (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura), Lao PDR, Myanmar (including the Mergui Archipelago), Thailand (from about 8°N and including adjacent islands), and central and Southern Vietnam. There might be a gap in the distribution in central and North-eastern Myanmar between about 20 and 25°N, where it has not been recorded except on the coast at Arakan. In India found north to the Brahmaputra River (Groves 2001).
Records from Xizang (China) are probably misidentified Rhesus Macaques (MacKinnon in press). It has recently been recorded from Namdapha National Park in North-eastern India (Chetry et al. 2003).
The precise taxonomic boundary between M. leonina and M. nemestrina is not well defined. There are populations of the two taxa found on either side of the distribution limits in the Isthmus of Kra, but many of these populations are the result of release by humans. The two species hybridize in a small area of Southern Peninsular Thailand, as well as on the islands of Phuket and Yao Yai (Groves 2001).
In Vietnam, there are historical records from as far north as Nghe An province, but there is uncertainty as to whether the species was ever found north of this province. It is widely distributed throughout the lower elevations (below 500 m) of Lao PDR and Cambodia (R. Timmins pers. comm.). It is found over much Myanmar except in areas of human settlements.
Eastern Bangladesh, Cambodia, China (Yunnan), India (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura), Laos, Myanmar (including the Mergui Archipelago), Thailand, and Southern Vietnam. There is an additional, introduced population on the Andaman Islands (India)


This is a predominantly terrestrial animal, although it readily climbs and forages in the canopy. It is diurnal and frugivorous. It occupies tropical evergreen and semi-evergreen forest, tropical wet evergreen forest, tropical moist deciduous forest, coastal forest, swamp forest, low elevation pine forests (in Lao PDR and China) and montane forest, including degraded forests. In China the species occupies elevations between 50-2,000 m (Molur et al. 2003; Choudhury 2003). In Lao PDR and Vietnam and Thailand the species is associated with lowlands, usually below 500 m. Its generation time is 10-12 years (Molur et al. 2003). According to secondary information and recent records, populations in Myanmar live between 190-400 m (S. Htun pers. comm.).
Systems: Terrestrial

Found in lowland primary and secondary forest, as well as coastal, swamp and montane forest. Dense rainforest is preferred, but agricultural lands may also be occupied. Groups often sleep in dipterocarp trees.


This diurnal species occupies all levels of the forest canopy and also spends much of its time foraging on the ground. Fruits and seeds form the bulk of the diet, together with young leaves, buds, shoots, fungus and animal prey (including insects, river crabs and nesting birds). As an opportunistic feeder, however, this macaque also has a tendency to raid crops such as corn, papaya, oil palm and grain, earning it a reputation as a serious pest over much of its range. The Northern Pigtail Macaque lives in multi-male / multi-female groups of 5 to 40 (average 15 to 22), with around five to eight females to every male. Females remain with their natal group, which is structured by a matrilineal dominance hierarchy. By contrast, males disperse at puberty and remain solitary or peripheral to a group. Mating occurs year-round, although a reproductive peak occurs between January and May. Females have a 30 to 35-day reproductive cycle, and display an enormous, purplish-pink genital swelling at oestrous. These swellings provide a visual cue to males that the female is about to ovulate, and adult males rarely attempt to copulate otherwise. Mating is initiated by the male, whose courtship approach involves retracting the ears and pushing the lips forward. Since mates are usually familiar with each other within a group, cercopithecines (Guenons, Macaques and Baboons) typically display only minimal courtship behaviour, confined to signals that indicate an immediate readiness to mate. Single offspring are born after a gestation period of 162 to 186 days, and the young are then nursed for 8 to 12 months. Juveniles reach sexual maturity at around four years.


Habitat disturbances that affect this species' survival include: selective logging; timber and firewood collection for making charcoal; building roads, dams, power lines; and deliberately setting fires. These threats lead to forest fragmentation and soil loss/erosion. Specifically, a decrease in habitat quality has been due to the loss of fruiting trees and sleeping sites through monocultures and plantations, selective felling, and a subsequent increase in the canopy gaps. These animals are hunted and traded for food, sport and traditional “medicine”, and accidental mortality due to trapping occurs. There is a local trade for bones, meat for food and the live animals as pets (Molur et al. 2003). Habitat loss and poaching are the major threats in India and Bangladesh. There has been a reduction in forest in Assam by over 10% in two years between 2001 and 2003 (Forest Survey of India 2003).
In Lao PDR, Vietnam and Cambodia, hunting for food and trade is the primary threat, but as a predominantly lowland species habitat loss likely is also a major threat to the species. In Thailand, the males of this species are exploited for picking coconuts by the industry. Sometimes, a well-trained macaque is sold for 1,000USD. They are also in demand by resorts for show (R. Boonratana pers. comm.).
In Myanmar, hunting, trade, habitat loss in varying degrees, shifting cultivation in the north, logging in the east and south, and rubber plantations are the major threats (S. Htun pers. comm.).
In China, hunting, habitat loss and disturbance are major threats. There is a perceptible change in habitat quality that has an impact on the species (Huang et al. pers. comm.). Macaques are used extensively in animal testing and vivisection, often being trapped in the wild or captive bred in poor conditions , and this species is no exception. Pig-Tailed Macaques are very popular for use in laboratories, being almost ideally suited for both psychological studies and HIV research. Threatened also by loss of habitat, the species is declining rapidly in many areas across its range. The Macaque’s taste for agricultural crops has also deemed it a pest, and it is therefore frequently shot on sight. Sadly, as its forest habitat is destroyed, the species is likely to become ever more dependent upon such crops for food.

Conservation Actions:

This species is listed under CITES Appendix II. It is listed as Schedule III in the Bangladesh Wildlife (Preservation) (Amendment) Act, 1974, Category I under the Chinese Wildlife Protection Act (1989), and as Schedule II under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (Chetry et al. 2003) amended up to 2002.

Northern Pig-Tailed Macaques are known to occur in numerous protected areas, including Chunati Wildlife Sanctuary, Lawachara National Park, Rema-Kelanga Wildlife Sanctuary (Bangladesh); Daxueshan Nature Reserve, Nanguanhe Nature Reserve, Wuliangshan Nature Reserve, Xishuangbanna Nature Reserve (China); Balpakhram National Park, Dampa Wildlife Sanctuary, Dibru-Saikhowa Wildlife Sanctuary, Fakim Wildlife Sanctuary, Garampani Wildlife Sanctuary, Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary, Gumti Wildlife Sanctuary, Intanki National Park, Kamlang Wildlife Sanctuary, Lengteng Wildlife Sanctuary, Mehao Wildlife Sanctuary, Murlen National Park, Namdapha National Park, Ngengpui Wildlife Sanctuary, Nongkhyllem Wildlife Sanctuary, Padumoni-Bherjan-Borajan Wildlife Sanctuary, Phawngpui Blue Mountain National Park, Sepahijala Wildlife Sanctuary, Siju WS, Trishna Wildlife Sanctuary, Yangoupokpi-Lokchao Wildlife Sanctuary (India); Pidaung Wildlife Sanctuary (Myanmar); Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary (Thailand); Cat Tien National Park, Pu Mat National Park (Vietnam). May possibly occur in Nam Ha National Biodiversity Conservation Area (Lao PDR) (M. Richardson pers. comm.; Molur et al. 2003)