Myanmar: Rare monkey facing extinction

Ei Ei Toe Lwin Myanmar Times Volume 31, No. 615 February 20 - 26, 2012

A RECENTLY discovered species of monkey is threatened with extinction and conservation programs should be expanded as soon as possible, environmental researchers said last week.

A program to survey the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey population has been launched in Kachin State, along with an education campaign to reduce hunting and wildlife trafficking. However, experts say more needs to be done to protect the species, which is so rare that researchers have never seen a live individual.

“We are conducting an education program to conserve the snub-nosed monkey and assess its population status. We estimate there are about 330,” said U Ngwe Lwin, project manager of the Myanmar Primate Conservation Program.

He said wildlife trafficking and logging were a major threat not only to the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey but also other endangered species in northern Myanmar.

“There has been an increase in hunting and illegal wildlife trafficking to the Chinese market. The skull of a monkey costs US$10 or $20 in the [Chinese] market. Today, it is also easier for hunters to sell these pieces because logging companies build roads to transport logs to the Chinese border,” he said.

“It is difficult for our team to conduct conservation activities in this area on its own. We need to increase cooperation with other organisations.”

The project will be implemented in cooperation with the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry, local authorities and communities.

The Myanmar snub-nosed monkey was discovered in March 2010 when a joint team comprising members of the Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA), Fauna and Flora International (FFI) and People Resources and Conservation Foundation (PRCF) photographed an individual using camera traps placed in the high, forested mountains of Kachin State.

“We got information about this monkey in 2009 when conducting the [environmental impact assessment] for the Myitsone hydropower project but we could not do a survey because we didn’t have the time or expertise,” BANCA chairman Dr Htin Hla said. “So when we arrived back in Yangon we discussed the survey with the FFI and it was launched in March 2010 as a part of the Myanmar Primate Conservation Program.”

“I was extremely excited to finally see a photo of this rare and endangered snub-nosed monkey in the wild. We need to quickly protect this species from extinction as there are many threats, such as hunting and habitat loss, related to its close proximity to the China border,” he said.

“We have to take practical action as soon as possible. If not, we will lose a priceless species.”

A study of the new species of snub-nosed monkey appeared in the October issue of the American Journal of Primatology. According to the survey, the species has black fur, prominent lips and wide upturned nostrils that fill with water when it rains, causing the monkeys to sneeze. It differs from other snub-nosed monkey species found in Vietnam and China and has not been found outside Kachin State.

Mr Frank Monberg, Asia director for program development at FFI, said in a statement released on January 10 that the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey was critically endangered and very rare.

“The Myanmar snub-nosed monkey was described by science in 2010 from a trophy collected from a local hunter. As yet no scientist has seen a live individual,” Mr Monberg said.

On February 29, the FFI and ministry will jointly hold a workshop in Nay Pyi Taw to draft a conservation action plan for the snub-nosed monkey in Myanmar.

U Ye Htut, deputy director of the ministry’s Forest Department, said that stopping wildlife trafficking was essential for safeguarding the species’ future.

“We are ready to cooperate with the conservation team to conserve the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey. It is difficult for our ministry to control wildlife trafficking on its own. We do not have enough staff and face transportation difficulties. Additionally, we can’t open checkpoints at the border [with China] in these areas,” he said. “So at this workshop we plan to invite international organisations and experts and hope to get technical and financial assistance.”

There are fives species of snub-nosed monkey, with three found in China and one in Vietnam.

“We will invite snub-nosed monkey conservation experts from China and Vietnam to share their experience with us,” said U Ngwe Lwin.