A monkey at the Can Gio biosphere reserve. Many believe a trip to the reserve will bring good luck in the Year of the Monkey. Photo: Tan Phu
In anticipation of the Year of the Monkey, many Ho Chi Minh City residents are making way for an island populated by primates in nearby Can Gio District, roughly 50km from the city center.
The residents of the 2,000-hectare mangrove forest are not afraid of humans, far from it. The monkeys have been known to leap onto the hoods of passing automobiles and even climb onto the shoulders of visiting tourists to beg for food.
According to the park’s management, the forest once served as a hideout for revolutionary forces and was devastated during the Vietnam War (1954-1975). The forest quickly recovered and became home to thousands of monkeys. It was recognized by UNESCO as Vietnam’s first biosphere reserve.
Duong Dinh Bo, a veteran of the war who now works at the park said he recalled their numbers were few when the war ended in 1975.
“No one thought that the population would soar to its current numbers,” he said.
Nguyen Huu Thuoc, has worked at the park for 17 years and says he's become intimately aware of the animals' habits.
“There are nearly 1,500 monkeys divided into 7 separate troops,” he said. "Each troop occupies its own territory in the park."
“The mating season runs from September-November and they give birth in June,” he said.
Tourists visiting the park can also hire row boats or motor boats to visit the former base of the revolutionary forces in Sac Forest.
Another densely populated by primate island sits off the coast of Khanh Hoa Province, some 15km north of Nha Trang. Over 1,000 monkeys currently occupy Lao Island which had served as a breeding ground for 170 monkeys in 1984.
The animals were then bred for use in the development of a vaccine project funded by the Soviet Union.
The monkeys were handed over to Khanh Hoa authorities several years later. And the island has since become a tourist destination. The monkeys have since split into three groups, the strongest of which dominates the prime tourist destinations who often feed them.
According to Tran Huy Tu who cares for the monkeys, the population has increased from 200 in 1996 to more than 1,000.
“The number of tourists visiting the island has also increased; 180,000 tourists came last year,” he said.
A tourist plays with monkeys on Lao Island in Khanh Hoa Province. Photo: Tra Son
Touring Lao Island by a horse-drawn cart. Photo: Tra Son