A golden langur on top of a tree in Bhutan

Before they go

“I’m a tropical biologist and lived in Panama for 15 years, then I met my wife, who works at a university in Scotland, and now we live there for six months of the year. It’s a little rainy and cold, but I can live with it. However, I love the tropics, and my main reason for being a photographer is to bring attention to conservation issues, endangered species and habitats in the tropics. This is very close to my heart.

I captured this image at the edge of the Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan – here the forest is amazing. The park reaches up to two thousand metres and is a huge forest park. After the next pass, the vegetation totally changes; no more tropical forest, just endless trees until the border of the tree line. After that, it’s just brush and grass. More than 60% of the Bhutan is protected in national parks.

This particular image is of a golden langur and it’s newborn. I received a grant from National Geographic Society to report on Bhutan’s nature, so was able to spend a lot of the last two years working there – four trips and five months in total – with the aim of documenting the natural world in this tiny Himalayan country. I’m really intrigued by them [golden langurs] because they are rare and really stunning, as well as charismatic – for me, at least! They are mainly in Bhutan, which is a small country, but really rich in biodiversity. It is also really steep and reaches 7000 metres over 100 kilometres. A few golden langurs are also in India, but they lack sufficient forest, whilst in Bhutan it’s intact. This is a highly endangered species with less than 6500 still existing, and they play a key role in seed dispersal in the forest. Bhutan has fully protected the habitat of the golden langurs so, basically, they are safe. If new forest was planted elsewhere in the region, this could potentially help widen the corridor where they can exist.

A golden langur on top of a tree in Bhutan with her newborn baby
This picture took several weeks to take. Christian needed to build rapport with the golden langurs before they were comfortable with him. ©Christian Ziegler

The golden langurs live in the subtropical forests, which spans one to two thousand metres. I visited them near a little village, which I think has perfect conditions, as they need to eat clay every second day – I believe they need the minerals. I think they eat a lot of leaves and maybe this is their way of dealing with toxins in the leaves. Just a guess.

I also enjoy working closely with local experts, wildlife biologists, and park rangers to get insider knowledge about a species. Then I usually work to get the species habituated to my presence, so that I can get intimate pictures that illustrate their behaviour and personality. I spent a lot of time with the golden langurs until they got used to me, so I could capture these images. After days and days and days, they slowly got used to me being there – realising that I was harmless, and I wasn’t going to eat them! They didn’t really communicate with me, just ignored me, simply accepting that I was there.

The image was actually taken from above, maybe twenty metres higher; this area is so steep that I could sit up on a slope and have real access to the monkey, who was sitting on top of a tree. She was eating the young leaves in the background and just hanging out, nursing her new baby, which was holding on tight. I saw this golden langur before she had the baby and I noticed she was now more careful in her behaviour. I discovered last year, while photographing a different group of golden langurs, that several females share the nursing of babies. I don’t know if these are other mothers sharing care, or even if there are other females that produce milk without having their own offspring – I really don’t know if that’s possible. Perhaps it is group behaviour. It definitely requires some study.

I work with many other endangered species, including bonobos in the Congo, cassowaries in Australia, and orchids in Panama. I started 25 years ago and back then it was fun, but now it has become a calling; to document these endangered species. I hope my pictures can show the value of these animals, that they are worth it. To me, they really are. I want to show the world that they are there and that we need some areas to be untouched – to simply let them be because maybe in twenty years they will be gone.”

Discover more of Christian Ziegler’s stunning photography on his website.

Written by Cecilie Harris and Christian Ziegler


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