Monkey Business

Dr. Long Yongcheng has played an incredible role in the resurgence of one of China's most treasured primates — learn about his love for the "most beautiful monkey species in the world."

"We Successfully saved the Yunnan golden monkey from the brink of extinction. Moreover, we also saved about 4,000 square kilometers of primary forest."

Dr. Long Yongcheng

Were you always interested in science?

Long Yongcheng:

When I was a little kid, I was very curious about the world around me. And when I became an adult, I wanted to learn how to answer my big questions in a structured way. Thus, I chose my career as a scientist. I hope all my questions about nature will be answered, but the process might take thousands of years!

What has made your work the most challenging?

Long Yongcheng:

It’s always very hard to get our specific scientific research understood by society. I spent over 10 years searching for the beautiful Yunnan golden monkey in the wild but got very little support. In 1997, when I finished a survey on the monkey’s population and distribution, I stopped further study on the monkey’s biology because I felt so sad that nobody else cared about the species. However, I was also very happy because I had accomplished a great work, identifying for the first time every single existing population of the most beautiful monkey species in the world. I thought, even if these monkeys go extinct, at least people will know that someone tried very hard to help them survive. I’ve persisted, and I still find my work with Yunnan golden monkeys to be very rewarding.

What’s it been like working with such an exotic species?

Long Yongcheng:

The Yunnan golden monkey is not exotic to me at all. Instead, I think it has a face that closely resembles a human’s. We successfully saved the Yunnan golden monkey from the brink of extinction. Moreover, we also saved about 4,000 square kilometers of primary forest. With our efforts, the total population of the monkey has increased from 1,700 to 3,000 between 2005 and 2016. Now, the species is no longer one of the world’s 25 most endangered primate species.

You’ve done a lot of primate research — ever get interested in researching people?

Long Yongcheng:

I actually just helped complete a study on people’s welfare. We recently measured the role protected areas play in safeguarding human welfare. It turns out that they are not only crucial for conserving biodiversity but also play a role in human economic development. In the study, we were trying to investigate if protected areas mitigated the effects of a severe drought that crippled southwestern China. We found that the drought severity had a clear negative correlation with protected area coverage. In other words, people in protected areas were less likely to suffer from the drought’s impact.

What’s the proudest moment of your life-long journey saving the Yunnan golden monkeys?

Long Yongcheng:

I am extremely proud to see more people are joining us in protecting the Yunnan golden monkeys and their habitat. Many of the people are villagers from the local communities who used to hunt the monkeys for a living. They have transformed their practices and committed to our conservation effort — some have been doing so for more than two decades! Our work would never have been possible without them.

About the Interviewee

Dr. Long Yongcheng has led efforts to protect the rare Yunnan golden monkey for over two decades, which are detailed in his book, The Most Adorable Faces in the World: Twenty Years with the Pink-Lipped Men. A Chinese Academy of Sciences member, the “Monkey King” has recently retired from his pursuit of a wide range of conservation projects with The Nature Conservancy’s China Program. Through his distinguished career, Dr. Long Yongcheng has overseen significant increases in the number of living Yunnan golden monkeys.


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