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Page last updated at 09:06 GMT, Thursday, 24 September 2009 10:06 UK
Safe havens for rarest primates
By Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News


New footage of the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey in the forests of Vietnam (video courtesy of Le Khac Quyet/FFI)

Two of the world's rarest primates are to be helped by the creation of new nature reserves in south-east Asia.

One reserve in Vietnam will protect the critically endangered Tonkin snub-nosed monkey, of which fewer than 200 remain.

The other in China will help safeguard some of the last 110 cao vit gibbons, the second rarest of all primates.

Conservation organisation Fauna and Flora International has worked with the governments of China and Vietnam to create the newly protected areas.

Habitat loss poses a significant threat to the existence of both primate species.

The future for the species now looks brighter
Yan Lu, FFI's China Primate Conservation Projects Manager

In Vietnam, the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus avunculus) lives among a relatively small expanse of once-pristine sub-tropical forest.

This species is one of only four species of snub-nosed monkey and is the only one found in the sub-tropics. The others are found in colder climates in China.

But poverty has forced local people to increasingly plunder this forest for firewood, while turning over parts of it to grow crops and livestock, jeopardising the monkey's survival.

It is already thought to have perished once before.

The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey was believed extinct until its rediscovery in Na Hang District in Tuyen Quang Province, Vietnam in the early 1990s.

Cao vit gibbon (Nomascus nasutus)
A rare photograph of a very rare gibbon

In May 2002, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) discovered a vitally important population in a small patch of limestone forest known as Khau Ca in the buffer zone of Du Gia Nature Reserve in Ha Giang Province.

In 2007, another population was discovered further north in the province on the border with China.

The 90 Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys living in Khau Ca will now be protected within a 2000 ha reserve created by a collaboration between FFI and the Vietnamese government, including local and provisional authorities.

"Overall it is likely that there has been a decline in the global population, but we are confident that the monkey population at Khau Ca has been increasing healthily. This should be considered the most important location for this species now. The newly discovered population on the Chinese border also offers a new hope," says Paul Insua-Cao, FFI's Vietnam Primate Programme Manager.

Another reserve is also being created just across the border in China.

This 6530 ha reserve more than quadruples the amount of protected forest for the cao vit gibbon (Nomascus nasutus), also known as the Eastern black crested gibbon. It lies alongside the Cao Vit Gibbon Conservation Area in Vietnam were most of the remaining gibbons survive.

Cao vit gibbon (Nomascus nasutus)
A female cao vit gibbon with baby

The cao vit gibbon too was thought to be extinct in China from the 1950s and in Vietnam from the 1960s.

"But in January 2002, a small remnant population was re-discovered in Trung Khanh District, Cao Bang Province, Vietnam, close to the Chinese border," says Yan Lu, FFI's China Primate Conservation Projects Manager.

In September 2006, a survey in contiguous forest close to the border in China recorded three groups of 19 individuals.

Then in September 2009, a survey team led by FFI carried out a transboundary census of the entire known habitat of cao vit gibbons in China and Vietnam. A total 18 groups and 110 individuals were recorded during this survey. It remains critically endangered with only the Hainan gibbon being rarer among all the primates.

"The cao vit gibbon currently lives mainly on the Vietnamese side of the border but it now has the chance to safely extends its population into China. The future for the species now looks brighter," says Lu.

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