Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Lion-tailed Macaque

lion-tailed macaque Order: Primates
Family: Cercopithecidae
Genus and Species: Macaca silenus

These social monkeys live in rainforest treetops in India's Western Ghats mountains.

Physical Description:

Covered in smooth, black hair, lion-tailed macaques are hard to see in the shady forest. They have distinctive gray manes that frame their faces and give them a big-headed look. These animals get their common name from their tuft-tipped, droopy tails.


Lion-tailed macaques are usually about two feet long, with an additional 18 inches of tail. Males grow slightly larger than females. Weight ranges from 15 to 33 pounds.

Geographic Distribution:

Lion-tailed macaques live in southwest India in pockets of evergreen forests, called sholas, in the Western Ghats range. They live at elevations between 2,000 and 3,500 feet.


The lion-tailed macaque is listed as endangered on the World Conservation Union's (IUCN's) Red List of Threatened Animals.


Lion-tailed macaques live in moist, shady evergreen forest in the Western Ghats mountains.

Natural Diet:

In the wild, lion-tailed macaques eat fruits, seeds, buds, leaves, insects, and small birds and mammals.

National Zoo Diet:

The Zoo's lion-tailed macaques eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, monkey chow, and, once a week, meat or hard-boiled egg. In addition, keepers occasionally scatter "forage foods"—food pellets, peanuts, mealworms, or crickets—that the monkeys seek, find, and eat.


Female lion-tailed macaques reach maturity at an average age of five, while males usually take three years longer. Five and a half months after mating, females give birth to one young.

Life Span:

In zoos, lion-tailed macaques have lived for more than 30 years. Their longevity in the wild is likely much shorter.


During the day, lion-tailed macaques travel the treetops in groups of 10 to 20, including one to three adult males, several females, and their young. Males call loudly to announce their presence to other males. Three other primate species occur within the lion-tailed macaque's range, but the lion-tailed is the most arboreal (tree-living) species. While slowly moving through the trees, troop members stuff their cheek pouches full of food. Later, they extract the food by rubbing their cheeks with the backs of their hands.


Lion-tailed macaques are unique to India. In the early 1970s, they still ranged through the southern third of the country. Today, they only live in mountain forests scattered across three Indian states: Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. Over the years, many were captured for the pet trade, zoos, research, and use in traditional Chinese medicine. The macaques declined as human settlement advanced. Teak, coffee, and tea plantations as well as dams and roads destroyed many forests. Today, habitat destruction is the lion-tailed macaques' worst enemy. Unlike the other three species that share their range—bonnet macaque (Macaca radiata), common langur (Presbytis entellus), and Nilgiri langur (see below)—shy lion-tailed macaques rarely cross through plantations to get from one forest to another. The future of lion-tailed macaques is closely linked with the protection of large sholas, where many other endemic (unique to that region) animals live.

A Few Lion-tailed Macaque Neighbors:

Nilgiri langur (Presbytis johni): This blackish, gray-headed leaf-eating monkey also inhabits southern India's evergreen shola forests.

white-bellied treepie (Dendrocitta leucogastra): This crow relative travels through the forest with other bird species in mixed foraging flocks.

sloth bear (Melursus ursinus): South India's only bear species finds shelter in mountain forests and often feeds at night in clearings.

By saving lion-tailed macaque habitat, we protect these and many other animals.

Fun Facts:

Of the world's 21 macaque species, lion-tailed macaques are among the most rare. They are the only macaque species currently listed as endangered.

Further Reading:

Pictorial Guide to the Living Primates, by Noel Rowe; Pogonias Press, 1996.

Evolution and Ecology of Macaque Societies, edited by John E. Fa and Donald C. Lindburg; Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Copyright 2000, Friends of the National Zoo.