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Canadian expat becomes de facto guardian of endangered langurs

Canadian expat Sylvio Lamarche has taken on himself the task of protecting endangered douc langurs on an island he has made his home.

Sylvio Lamarche does not engage in any monkey business, although he will cheerfully tell you he is a monkey himself, because he was born under the sign of the primate in the Chinese zodiac.

However, the Canadian expat resident of Nha Trang is very serious about protecting rare langurs in the beach town, a task he has assigned to himself for several years now.

The 56-year-old agricultural engineer first came to Vietnam in 1994 on the recommendation of a friend. It was meant to be a short trip, but things changed.

The first time, he traveled light, with just a couple of clothes in a small bag, intending to stay for one week.

"But when I arrived, the country's villages totally took my heart. Each paddy field is like a painting with marvelous textures "¦. Then there are beaches along mountains, it is bewitching," Lamarche said in fluent Vietnamese.

He spent three and a half years in Vietnam the first time.

"When I came back to Canada, I did not feel at ease, so I decided to return," Lamarche said.

He came back many times between 1995 and 1997, and has stayed on since 1999.

Since 2001, after exploring Vietnam's famous beaches with the boat he brought from Canada, Lamarche has settled down in Heo Island off Nha Trang, where he set up the Jungle Beach Resort with his Vietnamese wife on the one hectare of land he bought in the island foothills.


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About four years later, some foreign visitors excitedly told him about seeing more than a hundred langurs on the island. That very night, he emailed the information to Tilo Nadler, the German director of the primate rescue center at Cuc Phuong National Park in northern Vietnam.

Studies later showed that the black-shanked douc langurs do not belong to other groups detected earlier in Southeast Asia. They belong to the Pygathrix nigripes species which is indigenous to Vietnam and Cambodia, and unique among the doucs in having a largely greyish-blue face.

Since then, Lamarche has been a self-appointed ranger, protecting the endangered douc langurs on the 500-meter hill of the island, 60 kilometers off the resort town.

He first started protecting the langurs by buying them back from poachers, but that only encouraged the practice.

"A good motive caused bad consequences, so I accidentally made myself guilty," Lamarche said.

So he turned to keeping a look out and informing authorities instead.

Lamarche owns a pair of binoculars and has five dogs who act as his eyes and ears, vigilantly watching over the hills to spot illegal loggers or hunters. He also makes individual patrols around the hill.

Scientific materials show the douc species tends to gather in groups of 60s. But Lamarche has successfully protected a group of 110, which gave birth to a further 30 animals or so by the end of 2009, according to his observation.

In 2010, the agricultural engineer received a certificate of merit from local forest rangers for his contribution in discovering the langurs and protecting them.

Le Thanh Hoa, head of Ninh Hoa Town forest management center in Nha Trang, described Lamarche as a hard working ranger who does not get paid.

"Sylvio is a man who is very enthusiastic about protecting wild animals.

"He just needs to see a small fire, he would call the center," Hoa said.

"Some nights we cannot sleep because of his phone calls," the ranger joked.

Over time, Lamarche has been dubbed "the Westerner ranger" by locals.

Explaining his devotion to the langurs, Lamarche said simply: "I love them. They need to be protected. I also want my son to be able to see a langur with his own eyes instead of on the TV."

Lamarche has had a T-shirt designed with three monkey faces, captioned: "Monkey See," "Monkey Do," and "Monkey Get Into Trouble Too."

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