TV footage leads to discovery of strange and rare monkey
December 4, 2008
After showing archival TV footage of a critically endangered species of primate to local villagers, conservationists have discovered a previously unknown population of the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey in a remote forested area of northern Vietnam. The find the offers new hope for the species, which is down to 200 individuals in two of Vietnam’s northern-most provinces — Tuyen Quang and Ha Giang.
Following up on 2007 surveys of communities near the Chinese border which suggested the presence of the distinctive primate following TV broadcast of nature programming showing the species, scientists from Fauna & Flora International (FFI) observed 15-20 individuals in a small forest patch in Quan Ba District, Ha Giang Province. The group including three infants, indicating that this is a breeding population. Local reports suggest there may also be another group in a nearby area.
The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus avunculus) — which was thought extinct until rediscovered in the late 1980s — is at risk from hunting and habitat loss. Biologists on the recent expedition noted that the Quan Ba population was “very sensitive to the presence of people”, indicating that the monkeys associated humans with danger. FFI says cardamom plantations and logging for the Chinese timber market are the biggest threats to the newly discovered population, but that raising awareness among locals of the conservation importance of the species could help protect it. With funds provided by Twycross Zoo in the UK, FFI is working with local stakeholders and the Swiss development charity Caritas to develop sustainable livelihoods for villagers living near the forest that supports the monkeys.
“When I saw the Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys in Tung Vai Commune I was overjoyed,” said Le Khac Quyet, an expert on the species who is credited with discovering both the new population and one in Khau Ca in 2002. “This new discovery further underlines the importance of learning more about the Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys’ range and distribution. 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.”