Deforestation threatens Vietnam's rare monkey

Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 24 Mar 16;

KON TUM: After trekking the leech-ridden jungle from dawn to dusk for days on end, exhaustion was starting to show on the conservation team’s sweaty faces and damp gear.

Midway into a 10-day field assignment in Vietnam, the team had no more than two good photographs of the critically endangered grey-shanked douc to show on their long-range cameras. They needed a lot more.

Such is the elusiveness of the rare monkey - even the experts have a hard time trailing it.

The grey-shanked douc can only be found in the remote forests of Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Until the recent discovery of a new population of 500 doucs by a survey team from Fauna & Flora International, the species was believed to have as few as 800 remaining in the wild.

Visible snare lines and the absence of gibbons and larger mammals in the jungle point to heavy hunting in the past, said Mr Jonathan Eames, who leading a photography and book project on the primate.

“But we were told local people don’t like to hunt them because the meat is bitter,” he said.


With soulful, almond-shaped eyes and a golden face framed by creamy white whiskers, the grey-shanked douc is a poster child for primate conservation.

Vietnam has more critically endangered primates than any other country in the region. Out of its 25 primate species, 11 are on the verge of extinction and several of them can be found only in Vietnam.

While they are hunted for traditional medicine, bush meat and the illegal pet trade, deforestation remains their biggest threat. The forests they rely on are disappearing fast, destroyed by logging and land clearance for agriculture, roads, and hydropower plants.

A 2015 government report said the Central Highlands lost 14 per cent of its forest cover in seven years, a testament to the rapid forest loss accompanying Vietnam’s stellar economic development.


The environmental dilemma is evident on the road leading to the grey-shanked douc’s home deep in the primeval forests of Kon Tum province.

Concrete roads now link isolated ethnic villages to nearby towns and cities, and at the same time, connect virgin forest and their precious timber and wildlife to the market.

Billboards on the roadside and on large trees remind locals: “Protecting the forest means protecting our livelihoods.” In Vietnam, laws protect endangered species and forests, but suffer from poor enforcement.

According to the rules, there is one ranger in charge of every 1,000 hectares of forest, but in reality each ranger has to patrol more than 10,000 hectares, says Bui Thai Tung, a deputy director at a district-level forest protection department. “We’re spread too thin,” he said.


At dusk, the conservationists and their local guides got ready for another night in the jungle, rolling out their mosquito-netted hammocks and fastening them to tree trunks.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has been working with local authorities on a conservation plan, including developing ecotourism around the newly-discovered douc population and an adjacent ethnic village.

Benefits go beyond protecting one species. Primate conservation requires safeguarding its forest habitat, which means protecting all the flora and fauna in the area, FFI biologist Nguyen Van Truong told Channel NewsAsia.

The implications of failure are equally tremendous. Found nowhere else on the planet, scientists like Truong fittingly called the grey-shanked douc Vietnam’s monkey. “If one primate disappears here, the whole world loses it.”

- CNA/xq

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