A lot of people laugh at me when I tell them my favorite TV program is Swamp People. But I make no apologies for admiring the skills of people catching Alligators by hand even though I can hardly understand their English. The fact is these guys love and respect the wilderness they were brought up in and are true masters of their craft. Truly a dying breed in a world hell bent on habitat destruction!
Once in a while whenever we are in need of a good sweat we will make a trip to one of the mangrove swamps that dot the coastline of Peninsula Malaysia. It’s hard, hot work but sometimes we get lucky with some great shots of lowland forest birds that make it all worthwhile. And when there are no birds, there are always the local swamp people to photograph.
The most common of the primate tribes are the Long Tailed Macaques. These intelligent animals are almost human in appearance and behavior. They organize themselves in a hierarchical structure where the biggest and baddest is top of the pile. This is achieved through constant bullying and intimidation until one day a bigger and badder guy deposes him and begins a whole new cycle. The social structure below is one of constant conniving and maneuvering of alliances initially developed through friendship and the daily routine of grooming then maintained by outright intimidation.
Observing the females and their offspring it’s hard not to see a weaker sex trying to maintain some resemblance of dignity but knowing they are the subject of constant abuse. The sadness in the eyes of some of these animals is almost pitiful.
One of the most interesting experiences we were once fortunate to witness was a troop of Macaques hunting crabs deep in the mangroves of Kuala Selangor. The mud is soft, so the Macaques had to make clever use of every branch or log to reach and catch the crabs. Then watching them as they tried to eat the crabs while trying to avoid getting bitten by snapping claws was hilarious. Their reaction to getting bitten was so human you could almost hear the swearing.
Another more secretive primate tribe you often see in the swamps are Silvered Leaf Monkeys or Langur’s as they are more correctly known. Silvered Leaf Monkeys are 100% vegetarians, feeding exclusively on leaves and small berries. Interestingly their young offspring are a rusty orange color, something that adds a dash of color to an otherwise uniform dress code.
The facial features of these animals is really something to see and photograph. Look closely and you can see a human being, used to living in the swamp. Amazing!