Tibetan macaque (Macaca thibetana)

Also known as: Chinese stump-tailed macaque, Milne-Edward’s macaque, Père David’s macaque
French: Macaque Du Thibet
Spanish: Macaca Del Tibet
GenusMacaca (1)
SizeMale head-body length: 61 - 71 cm (2)
Female head-body length: 51 - 63 cm (2)
Male tail length: 8 - 14 cm (2)
Female tail length: 4 - 8 cm (2)
Male weight: 14 - 17.5 kg (exceptionally in excess of 30 kg) (2)
Female weight: 9 - 13 kg (2)

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

The Tibetan macaque is a large primate with a short, stump-like tail, a diagnostic feature of the species (4). The fur is brown on the back and creamy-buff to grey on the underparts, with a prominent, pale-buff beard and full-cheek whiskers framing the hairless face (4). The bare facial skin is pale pink in males, and a more vivid, reddish-pink in females, particularly around the eyes (5). A long, thick, dense coat helps this species to cope with the cold environment at the high altitudes at which it is found (5). As with other macaques, cheek pouches are used to carry food whilst foraging (6). Infants have silver and black fur (7), which darkens with maturation, although the final colour can vary between anything from a pale, yellowish brown to a dark, brownish-black (5).

Found in east-central China (Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Tibet and Yunnan) and northeastern India (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Meghalaya) (2).

This species occupies subtropical, deciduous and broadleaf evergreen forests, at between 800 and 2,500 metres above sea level (2) (6) (7).

The Tibetan macaque has a multimale-multifemale social system in which females remain in their natal group, but males disperse shortly after adolescence (at about eight years old) (5) (6). Macaque societies are hierarchical, with higher-ranking individuals getting better access to the resources, namely food and sexually-receptive females. As such, an alpha male (the highest-ranking male) dominates the group, and is typically fairly young (eight to nine years old) and strong. With age, the male’s rank decreases, and there will always be challenges by others for the dominant position. Studies of Tibetan macaques at Emei Shan and Huang Shan, China, found the average tenure for an alpha male only lasted about one year. When troop size becomes quite large (in the 40 to 50 range) and competition grows over increasingly stretched resources, some individuals (males, females and juveniles) split from the main group to form a new, smaller group, known as ‘fissioning’, and move on to a different home range. Usually, it is the lowest-ranking individuals that will split from the main group (5).

Females first breed at around five years of age (5). A single offspring is produced after a gestation period of 6 months, with most infants being born in January and February (5) (6). Young nurse for a year, although they may continue to do so longer if the female does not give birth again the following year. Males of the group may also be involved in ‘alloparenting’ care (5).

This diurnal species spends most of its time on the ground, where it forages for leaves, fruit, grass and, to a lesser extent, flowers, seeds, roots and insects (5) (7). When available, bamboo shoots, fruits and leaves are particularly favoured (5) (8).

Fights between adults, especially males, are a common source of injuries and occasionally death, and infants and juveniles also often fall victim to frustrated adults. Nevertheless, by far the most serious threat to the Tibetan macaque comes from humans. Habitat destruction, herbicide and pesticide poisoning, human transmitted diseases and illegal poaching have all had a negative impact on the survival of this species (5).

Tibetan macaques are protected by Chinese law (5), and are listed on Appendix II of CITES, limiting international trade in the species (3). 

For more information on the Tibetan macaque see:

Authenticated (22/12/2006) by Matt Richardson, independent primatologist and writer.

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2009)
  2. Richardson, M. (2006) Pers. comm.
  3. CITES (November, 2006)
  4. Suresh Kumar, R., Mishra, C. and Sinha, A. (2005) Discovery of the Tibetan macaque Macaca thibetanain Arunachal Pradesh, India. Current Science, 88(9): 1387-1388. Available at:
  5. Department of Anthropology, University of Buffalo (November, 2006)
  6. Primate Behaviour (November, 2006)
  7. BBC: Science and Nature (November, 2006)
  8. Zhao, Q.K., Deng, Z.Y. and Xu, J.M. (1991) Natural foods and their ecological implications for Macaca thibetana at Mount Emei, China. Folia Primatol, 57(1): 1-15.