Protecting Yunnan’s Snub-nosed Monkeys

Aug. 10, 2007

Communities and nature reserve officials are working together in an important partnership to protect an Endangered monkey found only in the Mountains of Southwest China Hotspot.

The Yunnan snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus bieti) lives only in the Yunling Mountains of Yunnan and adjacent Tibet. Only 2,000 individuals remain in the wild.

The monkeys live at altitudes above 10,000 feet—higher than any other primate—and subsist mainly on lichens growing on tree bark.

Widespread deforestation during the 1990s reduced the monkeys’ food supply and fragmented its habitat so that some populations were genetically isolated.

Over the last three years, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) helped support The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) efforts to learn more about the monkey, identify threats to its habitat, and coordinate a long-term plan to ensure its survival.

“Before, there was no coordinated conservation effort to identify and abate threats across the full range of the Yunnan golden monkey,” said Yang Fangyi, the CEPF program coordinator in China.

CEPF’s support for the TNC project is part of its strategic direction of supporting site-related projects led by civil society to mitigate key threats to natural areas and species populations.

Long Yongcheng, a conservation biologist who began the first studies of the monkey in 1987, now serves as conservation program manager for the TNC project. Through his efforts, authorities in five reserves where the monkey is found have agreed to work together toward its protection.

As part of the project, Yongcheng coordinated with resource managers throughout the monkey’s habitat to conduct the first comprehensive count of the monkeys in the wild.

CEPF support is also helping Yongcheng convince authorities to initiate the process of creating a national park to protect the monkeys living on Laojunshan, or Laojun Mountain.

“Because the monkeys living in this area represent one of but three Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys gene pools, preserving these monkeys is of utmost importance to the species’ long-term survival,” Yongcheng said.

Yongcheng is also working to curb poaching, which is currently the biggest threat to the monkeys’ survival. By recruiting former hunters as conservationists, the program benefits from their detailed knowledge of the monkeys’ habitat—as well as the habits of other hunters.

“My past hunting experience is very useful for my current work,” said Zhang Zhiming, one of the former hunters who Yongcheng first recruited nearly 20 years ago. “I can always tell all kinds of hunting tricks the local hunters might set up for the monkeys and other wildlife and find a way to deal with them at the site.”

Fuel-wood collection remains a major cause of deforestation in the monkeys’ habitat. To reduce this threat at the sites deemed most crucial for their long-term survival, TNC’s Alternative Energy Program installed biogas pits, energy-efficient stoves or fireplaces, or solar water heaters in 2,000 households.

Because the program also makes the participants’ lives easier and improves public sanitation, the local communities are now “much more supportive to our project,” Yongcheng said.

Learn more about The Nature Conservancy in China: Chinese; English.

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