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Conservation of Tonkin Snub-Nosed Monkeys (Rhinopithecus [Presbytiscus] avunculus) in Vietnam

The following are excerpts from "Conservation of Tonkin Snub-nosed 
Monkeys (Rhinopithecus [Presbytiscus] avunculus) in Vietnam", by 
Ramesh Boonratana and Le Xuan Canh, in The Natural History of the 
Doucs and Snub-nosed Monkeys, N.G.  Jablonski, ed.  Singapore, World 
Scientific,  1998.

"Conservation of Tonkin Snub-Nosed Monkeys (Rhinopithecus 
[Presbytiscus] avunculus) in Vietnam

Abstract:  The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus [Presbytiscus] 
avunculus), a highly endangered species, is endemic to Vietnam.  Its 
distribution is restricted to steep karst mountains in northern 
Vietnam.  An estimate based in a five-month survey shows that at 
least 130 Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys from two populations survive on 
the Na Hang Reserve in Tuyen Quang Province.  Current threats to its 
survival include loss of habitat and hunting.  Although the Tonkin 
snub-nosed monkey is a totally protected species, no known population 
exists within a Totally Protected Area.  Immediate conservation 
activities needed to ensure the survival of one of the world's rarest 
species include setting aside a national park in the Na Hang 
District, and strict law enforcement wherever the species still 

The largest number of R. (P.) avunculus observed during a single 
count at Ta Ke was 72, and the number estimated was 80 in all.  All 
the groups observed previously on different occasions were seen again 
during two population counts.  At Nam Trang-Ban Bung, 23 animals were 
observed, and the total number was estimated to be 50.  This was 
based on observations made separately by RB and LXC at two different 
locations on the same day.  Interviews with village elders and 
hunters indicated that population sizes and distribution in the past 
could have been between 100 to 200 animals.  The present population 
sizes are most likely due to past and present hunting pressure and 
loss of habitat.  It is relatively safe to assume that the 
populations at Ta Ke and Nam Trang-Ban Bung are two different 
populations.  These two areas are separated by Nang River, and there 
are no reports of  R. (P.) avunculus being able to swim.

Much of Ta Ke and Nam Trang-Ban Bung was partially logged and 
subjected to various forms of land clearance.  Although logging 
operations stopped more than a decade ago, log poaching continues. 
Villagers regularly collect bamboo for making houses and household 
utensils.  The major form of habitat destruction is caused by both 
permanent and shifting cultivation by various ethnic minorities, viz. 
Tay, Man, Hmong and Meo.

Hunting is a major threat to  R. (P.) avunculus throughout its range. 
Although the meat of these monkeys is considered "bad tasting," they 
are nevertheless killed when encountered.  In Na Hang, they are 
consumed locally or made into a medicinal stock as a cure for 
fatigue.  Unconfirmed reports from the adjoining Bac Thai Province 
indicate that live and dead  R. (P.) avunculus, along with other 
animals, are sold to buyers from mainland China in the border areas 
of Vietnam and China.

Initial steps at protecting  R. (P.) avunculus were jointly initiated 
in early 1992 by Primate Conservation, Inc.  (PCI), a foreign 
non-governmental organization, and Vietnam's Institute of Ecology and 
Biological Resources (IEBR).  Through a series of dialogues, PCI/IEBR 
managed to get the Na Hang People's Committee to issue a decree 
banning the hunting, buying and selling if the Tonkin snub nosed 
monkey.  Also, through the Na Hang People's Committee, we initiated a 
patrolling system for the rangers from the Na Hang Forest Protection 
Unit (FPU).  This included frequent, but random visits to villages 
and settlements in and around the forested areas, mainly to show 
their presence.

The effectiveness of this patrolling system is yet to be seen, but we 
strongly feel that regular presence of FPU Rangers will reduce 
hunting in the long term.  There are, however, two major setbacks: 
(1) the FPU Rangers are not familiar with the forests and do not wish 
to be so; (2) many of the hunters are related to the FPU rangers, 
hence the FPU Rangers' reluctance to enforce anti-hunting laws.

Intensive and extensive conservation efforts should be implemented 
immediately to prevent the highly endangered R. (P.) avunculus from 
becoming extinct.  Conservation efforts should include surveys in 
other forested areas where the monkey is reported or suspected to 
occur.  Most important is the enforcement of laws pertaining to 
wildlife and protected areas.  These laws may require review, lest, 
the very ideas of protected areas and species, and law enforcement in 
the protected areas be defeated.

Further Reading:

Jablonski, N. G.  Introduction.  In: The Natural History of the Doucs 
and Snub nosed Monkeys.  Jablonski, N.G., ed.  Singapore, World 
Scientific, 1998.

Nhat, Pham.  Some data on the food of the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey 
(Rhinopithecus avunculus).  Asian Primates 3(3-4): 4, 1993/1994.

Wirth, R.   Tonkin snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus avunculus) 
rediscovered.  Asian Primates 2(2):1-2. 1992

Topics in Primate Conservation is supported by a grant RR00167,
Regional Primate Centers Program, National Center for Research
Resources, The National Institutes of Health.