Photo by L K Quyet Fauna & Flora International
Hope flickered a little higher for the critically endangered Tonkin snub-nosed monkey this week on news that another population of the extremely rare primate was discovered in a remote forest of northern Vietnam
“This new population provides hope for the future of this species, as the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is now known to survive in no more than five locations in Vietnam, and at some locations the populations are probably in decline,” British conservation charity Fauna & Flora International (FFI) said in a statement today.
“Habitat loss and hunting for the bush meat and traditional medicine trades have been pushing the species to the brink of extinction. At this new location, cardamom plantations and logging for the Chinese timber market are clearing the few forest refuges left for this unique primate,” FFI said.
The organization added that it had ”arrived in the nick of time to drum up the local and international support necessary” to protect the newly found population.
Photo courtesy L K Quyet Fauna & Flora International
“When I saw the Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys in Tung Vai Commune I was overjoyed,” said Le Khac Quyet, the conservation biologist credited with discovering the new population. “There is still time to save this unique species, but with just 200 or so left and threats still strong, we need to act now.”
Believed to be extinct until a surviving population was found in the late 1980s, the 200 Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys estimated to be left in the wild are present in just two of Vietnam’s northernmost provinces — Tuyen Quang and Ha Giang. The primate is listed as Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species.
Named for its extraordinary upturned nose, the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is unique to Vietnam.
Photo courtesy L K Quyet Fauna & Flora International
The discovery of the new population came about after FFI set out to discover whether any more of the rare monkeys existed. “While interviewing communities near the Chinese border last year, it emerged that villagers in the Tung Vai Commune had sighted the strange looking monkeys after seeing rare film footage of them that FFI had supplied to a national television network,” FFI said.
“On the strength of these reports, in April 2008 an FFI-led team of biologists managed to observe 15-20 individuals in the nearby forest, including three infants — an encouraging sign, indicating that this is a breeding population. The monkeys were located in a small forest patch in Quan Ba District, Ha Giang Province, near the Chinese border.”
While observing this group, the biologists noted that the monkeys were very sensitive to the presence of people, giving warning signs to one another and fleeing the area whenever the team approached. “It was apparent that the monkeys associated humans with danger — perhaps due to ongoing threats from hunters.”
Local reports indicate that another- – possibly larger — group also exists, FFI said. “During the work, FFI’s team managed to take a photo of one member of the new population- – capturing a fleeting glimpse of an adult male scampering through the trees. This is the only photographic evidence of Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys in Quan Ba District.”
With urgent funds provided by Twycross Zoo in the UK, the first significant steps have been taken to protect the newly discovered population, FFI said. The charity has brought together a range of stakeholders, from provincial officials to village heads, to plan the way forward.
FFI is also working with the Swiss development charity Caritas to provide support to the rural communities living next to the monkey’s forest, to improve local livelihoods and reduce human pressures on the forest ecosystem, thereby increasing the monkey’s chance of survival.
“Already, cardamom production has stopped expanding in the forest and there has been a government program to confiscate hunting guns,” FFI said.
“All recent indications suggest that we have a fantastic opportunity to secure this population and significantly increase the chances for the survival of this species,” said Paul Insua-Cao, FFI’s Vietnam Primate Programme Manager. “Most significant is all the excitement this has generated locally and the support that is coming from the local Vietnamese government agencies and Caritas Switzerland . With almost half the world’s primate species under threat from extinction, we must do everything we can.”
Tonkin snub-nosed monkey video by L K Quyet/FFI
In 2002, FFI and its partners discovered the largest known population of Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys in Khau Ca forest, Ha Giang Province. With an estimated 70 individuals, and the only population not in decline, this group is now considered the most important for the survival of the species.
FFI began working to conserve this group immediately upon finding it and continues to support forest patrols and conduct ecological research, while this year supporting the establishment of a protected area at Khau Ca forest.
The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus avunculus) is one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world.
Photo by Le Khac Quyet (FFI) and Herbert Covert (University of Colorado at Boulder)