German zoologist calls on Vietnam to protect endangered monkeys

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Red-shanked doucs on Son Tra Mountain in Da Nang. Photo by Larry Olibarri

After 15 years following the red-shanked douc langur population on Son Tra Mountain in central Vietnam, German primate expert Ulrike Streicher says they need protecting for the sake of the species' survival.

Streicher called the red-shanked langurs on the mountain near the Da Nang coast a world "treasure," as they represent the largest such community on earth, and are currently being threatened by expanding tourism.

The zoologist said in a Lao Dong (Labor) report recently that few people are aware of the monkey's value or vulnerability, and that it is in danger of becoming wiped out due to indifference and improper conservation.

She said the douc, which is listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, now only remains in several groups in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and that Son Tra Mountain provides the best habitat for the primate due to its peninsular geography and diverse floral and fauna systems.

The primates were discovered on the mountain in 1969 and their population has been maintained at around 200, among 80 families, she said. But she warned that the loss of those would mean the end for the entire species worldwide.

She said local authorities and people are provided little information as to how to protect them, while many tourism and urban projects are eyeing the mountain as a prospective location for their activities.

Streicher and her husband Larry Olibarri, also a researcher of doucs in Vietnam, spent their own money early last year to hold an exhibition on the monkey at a secondary school in Son Tra District.

The couple's activities motivated filmmakers from the BBC to film a documentary on the monkeys of the 4,500-hectare mountain in February, to show the world an endangered species surviving by a thread right beside a major city.

Gavin Boyland from the media outlet played a part of his recordings to some young tourists in Da Nang and it provoked among them both interest and love for the animal.

He called on his Vietnamese counterparts to follow his lead, starting with photos and videos aimed at raising people's awareness of the douc situation, so the animals would feel safer than they do now as they move about amidst the encroaching human population.

Phan The Dung, former head of Son Tra Forest Management Unit, said poaching and illegal logging were common on the mountain until 2005, when the city carried out many urban development projects and people living on the jungle's fringes were either relocated or given other ways to earn a living that did not depend on exploiting nature in the jungle.

But many people have switched to tourism, roads on and around the mountain have been extended, creating a "new strong threat," Dung was quoted in Lao Dong as saying.

Streicher's intervention prompted Da Nang authorities to set up wire bridges above the roads to connect the mountain's jungles and which will hypothetically enable the monkeys to move around more freely and find food more easily.

But she said it will take time for the animal to adapt to the presence of the bridges and learn how to use them.

She said it had taken her and her husband more than one year to get close to the endangered doucs. Now, the monkeys sometimes allow the couple to carry them.

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