- Between October 2013 and September 2015, Chinese researchers successfully captured more than 200 camera trap images of the monkey, and even videotaped the monkeys on the eastern slopes of Gaoligong Mountains.
- This discovery is good news for the species, researchers say, because the populations in Myanmar and Pianma on the western slopes of Gaoligong Mountains are declining due to hunting and habitat degradation.
- The team estimates that the new population — called the Luoma population — might have more than 70 individuals.
Scientists have confirmed the presence of a new population of the rare Myanmar snub-nosed monkey in China.
The Myanmar snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus strykeri) first came to attention when local hunters told a group of researchers about a species that allegedly sneezed during the rainy season in the northern forests of Myanmar. Biologists then described the first population of this rare monkey — locally known as mey nwoah, or ‘monkey with an upturned face’ — from the remote Kachin state of north-east Myanmar in 2010.
A year later, a second population was discovered in Pianma on the western slopes of Gaoligong Mountains in neighboring China. The newly discovered primate was quickly listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List.
Now, scientists have confirmed the presence of a population of the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey on the eastern slopes of Gaoligong Mountains in the Salween River Basin, close to the border with Myanmar.
This discovery is good news for the species, especially because the populations in Myanmar and Pianma are declining due to hunting and habitat degradation, researchers report in a new study published in the journal Oryx.
Between October 2013 and September 2015, Chinese researchers successfully captured more than 54 images of the monkeys using camera traps, 200 photographs, and even videotaped the monkeys. They also found evidence of chewed branches and faeces consistent with those collected from the species in its other confirmed sites.
“Wet weather, steep terrain, dense forest and bamboo have been obstacles for us since we start our work on R. skrykeri in 2012,” co-author Wen Xiao told Mongabay. “I have been working on the black snub-nosed monkey (R. bieti) which occurs at higher altitude and latitude for 16 years, and I will say that the difficulty of working on R. skrykeri is much more than working on R. bieti. So any data we get is valuable simply due to its availability.”
The team estimates that the new population — referred to as the Luoma population — might have more than 70 individuals. The population lives in the core zone of the Gaoligong Mountain National Nature Reserve, the authors write, just a day’s walk away from the closest village. Researchers think that this population could serve as a source population for the formation of new additional populations of the rare monkey.
“The Luoma group of Myanmar snub-nosed monkey occurs in one of the most intact forest patches in China,” said Xiao. “It is also at the center of all the other groups we determined based on interview surveys. So it can be the key group in China, if we think all the groups in China form a population or meta-population.”
The Myanmar snub-nosed monkey occurs in high altitude forests in a small region between the Irrawaddy and the Salween Rivers, and has a limited distribution. The species is threatened by hunting and trapping, and destruction of its habitat due to logging and the construction of dams. Fewer than 400 individuals of this species are thought to survive in the wild.
The Luoma population requires strict and effective conservation management, the researchers say.
“This group was found near the border of Gaoligong National Nature Reserve, which means that the home range of the Luoma group may extend out of the reserve,” Xiao said. “So we need to work with the forest department to set some buffer zone for them. For that we need to clarify its home range.”
Moreover, since the monkey is distributed both in China and Myanmar, a cross boundary conservation framework is essential to ensure the species survives, Xiao added.
- Yang, Y., Tian, Y.-P., He, C.-X., Huang, Z., Dong, S.-H., Wang, B., Li, G.-S., Xiang, Z.-F., Long, Y.-C. and Xiao, W. (2016) ‘The Critically Endangered Myanmar snub-nosed monkey Rhinopithecus strykeri found in the Salween River Basin, China’, Oryx, pp. 1–3. doi: 1017/S0030605316000934.