Better system needed for protection of golden monkeys

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Chinese scientists are calling for a better and coordinated system for research and protection of endangered golden monkeys in China.

The golden monkey in Shennongjia, central China's Hubei Province. []

The golden monkey in Shennongjia, central China's Hubei Province. []

Golden monkeys, like giant pandas, are highly protected in China. But research into the monkeys is often conducted in an unsystematic way, said Yang Jinyuan, head of the research institution of Shennongjia Nature Reserve in central China's Hubei Province, which is home to about 1,200 golden monkeys.

The Shennongjia golden monkey, which lives deep in forests at altitudes of between 1,680 to 3,000 meters, is a sub-species of the Chuan golden monkey -- one of three kinds of golden monkeys which can be found in the wild only in China.

Besides Shennongjia, golden monkeys also live in southwest China's Sichuan and Guizhou provinces and the northwestern provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu.

There are less than 25,000 golden monkeys in the world, with Vietnam being home to the fourth and only other species of the monkey.

Experts and researchers in different parts of China do not readily communicate with their fellow researchers in other provinces, Yang told Xinhua on Tuesday.

Yang suggested that China set up a national research and protection center to coordinate golden monkey research work across the country.

"Unified research planning and clarified divisions of work would certainly increase the efficiency in the protection work," he said.

Though the population of golden monkeys in Shennongjia Nature Reserve expanded to 1,280 in 2005 from 501 in the 1980s due to efforts to conserve the local environment, the golden monkeys are still on the verge of extinction.

Researchers are unsure whether the numbers of this rare primate have increased since 2005. The monkeys are still threatened by increasing human activities and a shortage of food in the winter.

New roads and human activity in the region in recent years have isolated groups of golden monkey from one another, which is not helpful for their long term survival, said Liao Minyao, director of the management bureau of the Shennongjia Nature Reserve.

Meanwhile, though felling trees and hunting are strictly prohibited in the nature reserve, grazing, herb-gathering and sometimes even poaching still affect the golden monkeys, said Liao.

Food shortages and snow storms in winter can result in golden monkeys dying. In 2008 alone, forest rangers found 13 dead monkeys after snow storms, according to Yang Jingyuan.

He said that a five-month-long population count will be launched next month, Yang said.


Yang said he hoped that the establishment of a unified research and protection system would also come with more funding, as money shortages had been hampering protection efforts.

Insufficient research funding and paychecks has deterred many professionals, he said.

Besides, most golden monkeys live in remote mountain areas where the economy and living conditions are relatively poor.

"We only have seven researchers in Shennongjia, which is far from enough to sufficiently protect the golden monkeys," said Yang.

Researchers sometimes have to feed the monkeys as well, such as putting apples and oranges onto the ends of chopped tree branches along the monkeys' migratory routes, to make them believe the fruit had grown on trees and, therefore, could be eaten.

"The institution needs at least 300,000 yuan (about 44,780 U.S. dollars) to function each year, but the special fund the country allocates for golden monkey protection in Shennongjia is just over 100,000 yuan every year," he said.

"Most of the time, we have to secure funds from the forestry department or other channels," Yang said.

At the poor-equipped Shennongjia Golden Monkey Rescue Center, a baby monkey died just a few days after it was born in 2006 just because the center did not have an incubator, said Yu Huiliang, a staff member with the center.

Until now, the center still can not afford an incubator and some laboratory equipment, said Yu.

"We're always afraid of monkeys getting sick, because the center doesn't have a professional vet," he said.

Altogether nine monkeys, including six rescued from the mountains after snow storms and three baby monkeys born here, are kept at the rescue center.

"I hope a better coordinated system and more funding will make our work easier," Yang Jingyuan said.

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