Saving Monkeys Takes a Team

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An adolescent male Guizhou snub-nosed monkey

San Diego Zoo Global and China’s Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve Administration are working together to conserve the last remaining population of Guizhou snub-nosed monkeys, currently numbering about 750 individuals. Most people probably have never heard of these monkeys. That’s because Guizhou snub-nosed monkeys are elusive and difficult to observe in the wild. Although a troop typically contains 100 to 200 individuals, the monkeys are extremely wary of potential predators, nowadays mainly humans. Also, Fanjingshan is steep in topography, making it a challenge for researchers to conduct fieldwork. Nevertheless, since we began our collaborative research in 2007, we have been advancing our knowledge of the monkeys’ habitat and dietary requirements, information that is essential for the species’ long-term survival.

March in Fanjingshan, Yangaoping research area. Photo credit: Kefeng Niu

A successful conservation endeavor requires a team of dedicated people. I am fortunate to work directly with the reserve director, Yeqin Yang, a fellow biologist whose legacy resides in protecting the Guizhou snub-nosed monkey, the cornerstone species in the reserve. Partnering with the reserve administration has truly been a privilege. In China, rarely do foreign scientists have direct access to reserve administrations. It is often the case that foreign scientists join an in-country academic who establishes and maintains the relationship with protected area management. Needless to say, working through an intermediary is not the most effective way to carry out one’s research and conservation objectives.

April in Fanjingshan, Yangaoping research area

This year, besides incorporating camera-trap technology in our scientific investigations of the monkeys, we are adding an education component to our in situ conservation efforts. With funds from the Offield Family Foundation, San Diego Zoo Global, Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve Administration, International Primatological Society, and an anonymous donor, we have developed a conservation education program that is socioculturally relevant to the rural setting in Fanjingshan. Heading this program in the reserve administration is one of their engineers, Kefeng Niu, a promising young scientist with great determination and leadership qualities. The program, called Little Green Guards, targets primary school children and aims to foster a generation of environmentally conscious citizens. Through games, storytelling, arts, and music, we want to instill empathy and respect toward wildlife in children living near nature reserves.

The Little Green Guards logo, designed by one of our enthusiastic volunteers, Bing Yang.

Conservation education is still a novel concept to most Chinese, and appreciation for nature and wildlife is incompatible with traditional utilitarian views on natural resources. With a country of over 1.3 billion people, the Little Green Guards have a long march ahead. We believe in our team efforts, and we are hopeful that our regional conservation movement will gain momentum and garner national and international support.

Chia Tan is a scientist with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.