In April 2018, Mohamed Jahangir and Arup Rongpi, both employees at the Assam State Zoo, were given what the duo says was their “life’s biggest responsibility”. The two men were deputed to a hill in the zoo premises that lies within the Hengrabari Reserved Forest in Guwahati. Their job was to oversee the blossoming romance of Bolen and Lovely, a pair of Golden Langurs. On December 24, when Bobby—a healthy female baby— was born, the caretakers knew it was a job well done.
Bolen and Lovely were brought from Kokrajhar in April 2018 to be part of the pilot experiment of the state’s Golden Langur Conservation Breeding Programme. The initiative had been mandated by the Central Zoo Authority, New Delhi.
“The purpose of this program is to breed these langurs so that they can be repopulated in the wild,” said Tejas Mariswamy, DFO, Assam State Zoo.
The Golden Langur (Trachypithecus geei) was discovered in 1953 by naturalist E.P. Gee. These langurs are arboreal leaf-eating creatures and are only found in the forests in Assam (primarily in the areas of the Manas Biosphere Reserve) and Bhutan.
Over the last three decades, the population of this species, known for their distinctly long tails and gold-orange coat, has declined by 30 per cent. “The conservation programme is an attempt to save the species,” said Mariswamy.
For caretakers Jahangir and Rongpi, the only two men (apart from the veterinary doctors) allowed at the hilltop breeding centre, the job was demanding as it was risky. “We both were the only two people who were responsible for the lives of these langurs,” said Jahangir.
Over the last nine months, the two men kept track of the langurs’ behaviour in the three 600-square metre enclosures. “We had to see if they were happy, sad, hungry, angry — everything!” Jahangir said.
Often the two would make conversation with the animals. “We would say things like: ‘Lovely, ki kori asa? Lovely, what are you doing?’,” he said.
The men were a little apprehensive initially, but soon the primates had no qualms about jumping right into their laps. “They aren’t as shy as people think them to be,” said Rongpi.
In May, the langurs mated, and in the final months of Lovely’s pregnancy, the men kept a closer watch. “We would even keep discussing amongst ourselves when the baby would be born,” said Rongpi. Both would be at the centre from 8 am to 5 pm every day — and sometimes, they would pay a visit at night, too.
On the morning of December 24, when they reached the centre, they found, tightly clasped to Lovely, her newborn baby. The veterinarians were summoned immediately.
“We named her Bobby — and in the past month, she has been growing well,” said Jahangir, adding that the mother does not ever part with the child but “allows them to touch her.”
Currently, there are four male and three female (including Bobby) Golden Langurs in the zoo. While the breeding programme was instituted in 2012, it only showed results in 2018.
“The langurs were too young probably, and that’s why they were not paired earlier,” explained Mariswamy.
Bolen, Lovely and Bobby will be kept together in the breeding centre for some time. “We wont separate them until the baby is a little bigger,” said Dr Panchami Sharma, one of the veterinary doctors in-charge of the family. Bobby has now started crawling, jumping and even slowly nibbling on fruit.
“Once there are at least 40 successes, we will release them in the wild,” said Mariswamy.
Till then, the Lovely, Bolen and Bobby will be cared for by Rongpi and Jahangir. “I haven’t looked after my own children as I looked after these two monkeys,” said Jahangir.