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Nilgiri langurs in the trees, India by Kartiki GonsalvesNilgiri langurs in the trees, India by Kartiki GonsalvesNilgiri langurs in the trees, India by Kartiki Gonsalves

Kartiki Gonsalves: The hidden life of Nilgiri Langurs

Life in the treetops

Reading time: 4 min.

The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve is a special, wild, magical place that spans a massive 5,520 km². The Nilgiri Hills contain some of the richest and most diverse stunted tropical montane forests on the planet. The reserve has produced and sustained many endemic species such as the Nilgiri tahr and Nilgiri marten.

!!!Nilgiri langur (Trachypithecus johnii) jumping by Kartiki Gonsalves
!!!Nilgiri langur (Trachypithecus johnii) on tree by Kartiki Gonsalves
One of my favorite creatures

that swings high above the ground is the elusive Nilgiri langur (Trachypithecus johnii). The Nilgiri langur is a very handsome black columbine primate with a striking golden mane. It is charismatic and curious. These primates are endemic to the Western Ghats in India, where they are distributed across the high slopes in the Shola forests. When you spend some time studying the wild Nilgiri langur, you quickly realize that what divides us as species is less obvious than what binds us together.

!!!Shola forest by Kartiki Gonsalves Shola forest mists cling to the hills by Kartiki Gonsalves

I love walking through their habitat. As I walk along, I tread lightly and breathe in the fresh scent of the moist forest floor. I proceed as if through a maze, finding narrow openings that allow passage through the dense forest growth. Often the mystery is deepened by the mists that cling to the hills. It is a lovely sensation to realize that I can smell or hear wild animals going about their lives very close by as I wander through their land.

!!!Nilgiri langur (Trachypithecus johnii) sitting on a tree branch by Kartiki Gonsalves
!!!Nilgiri langur (Trachypithecus johnii) standing on a tree branch by Kartiki Gonsalves
The best moments

I’ve had with these amazing creatures came from just sitting quietly with them from dawn to dusk. The time spent waiting for these special moments is what really makes a great wildlife photographer and filmmaker. There are hours of just waiting and waiting.

Three Nilgiri langurs sitting on a tree by Kartiki Gonsalves

My SWAROVSKI OPTIK CL Companion binoculars are essential equipment to locate the langurs in the treetops and study their behavior. The power of clear vision opens up a world that was unseen until then. With my binoculars, I am able to watch every move of the langurs like I am right there with them.

I feel like I am right there among them.

These are very shy, highly intelligent, social animals who spend a lot of their time deep in the forests away from humans. They get used to my presence and eventually start going about their daily routines. Some of the young get very playful and curious. The family stays together while they groom themselves and forage for food, and while the young ones explore and play in the canopy. The most fascinating part is watching these fairly large primates swinging from tree to tree on slender branches and vines, which requires complex planning, calculation, foresight, and an intuitive grasp of precision.

Nilgiri langur eating close-up by Kartiki Gonsalves

who are you hiding from?


As one long day came to an end, I picked up my camera to start back before dark. Then, I suddenly realized that I was not alone. was sitting, completely silent, just a few feet in front of me. When had he arrived? How had he got here without alerting me?

Then something amazing happened: he looked through the branches, right into my eyes.
!!!Nilgiri langur by Kartiki Gonsalves
He was watching me inquisitively

with his beautiful brown eyes, as if wondering, “who are you hiding from?”. The next twenty minutes were truly special. I struggled between trying to be in the moment and trying to shoot in the rapidly diminishing light. I could hardly contain my excitement; experiencing such beautiful moments with one of these special primates in a wild landscape is a dream come true.

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Kartiki Gonsalves

Kartiki Gonsalves is a documentary filmmaker (Oscar-winning), photographer, and a Sony Artisan of Imagery, India. Her journey of exploration involves capturing the diversity of cultures and tribes across the world, along with the beauty of the natural world and biodiversity they share. Her focus is on discussing solutions and building greater awareness and a sense of responsibility toward environmental concerns, while showcasing success stories in conservation that instill hope. Her conservation philosophy is that human empathy transcends diversity and connects us all together in our environmental cause. She also seeks to give a platform to women and indigenous tribes, especially those working to conserve the planet. She founded Earth Spectrum in late 2018, which she infuses with her passion for adventure to bring new perspectives and a deeper public understanding of environmental and humanitarian issues.

For more information and fascinating adventures visit her Instagram account and website: @kartikigonsalves

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