UPDATE: Good news to usher in the Year of the Monkey in China:
Since The Nature Conservancy began working to conserve Yunnan golden monkeys nearly 20 years ago, the population has doubled from 1,500 to 3,000 individuals.
Today, we are working to make sure these monkeys continue to return from the brink of extinction.
Deep in the remote forests of southwestern China lives the rare and obscure Yunnan golden (or snub-nosed) monkey. Their human-like features have made them the subject of legends in China. But neither their elusiveness nor their human appearance has stopped them from becoming one of the most endangered primates on Earth.
Habitat loss — including deforestation and the removal of dead trees — and illegal hunting have strained a species already struggling to survive in isolated and fragmented populations.
There are only 3,000 Yunnan golden monkeys in the wild, but recent population increases gives us hope that our approach to conserving these iconic monkeys is working.
The Mysterious Golden Monkey
Discovered by scientists in the 1890s, then lost and thought to be extinct until 1962, these monkeys are a continuing mystery. Scientists are just starting to understand the monkey's biology and behavior. Yunnan golden monkeys:
- Make their home at altitudes higher than any other primate except humans.
- Live and travel in communities made up of small family groups consisting of one male, several females and their children.
- Spend most of their lives in trees, eating only plants — primarily lichens found on trees. Although sometimes they also come down to search for food on the ground, including plant tubes underground.
- Have a wandering lifestyle. A troop may cover a few kilometers in one day and have an immense home range of roughly 20 square miles in extreme rugged terrain.
- Give birth about once every two or three years.
Protecting China’s National Treasure
Recognizing the need for drastic action to protect the Yunnan golden monkey, the Conservancy and Chinese partners launched a program to protect this legendary species and save the best primary forests in an area of the Three Parallel Rivers, the famous world heritage site, that's sandwiched between the Yangtze River and the Mekong River.
Not since the efforts to protect the giant panda has a species protection program been launched in China at such a large scale.
To bring the monkey back from brink of extinction, the Conservancy and partners are:
- Tracking monkeys. Using GIS technology and GPS collars, we're gaining a better understanding of the ecology and conservation needs of the monkey species while developing an innovative range-wide conservation plan.
- Protecting their homes. We're patrolling the forests that harbor the 15 remaining sub-populations of the Yunnan golden monkey and we helped establish Laojun Mountain National Park, home to two of the most genetically important remaining golden monkey groups.
- Restoring forests. We’re planting trees to restore habitat within the range of the monkey. We’ve already planted more than 3.2 million trees in Yunnan.
- Asking local people to help. We're using environmental education to teach local villages about the value of the monkey and local forest habitat while enlisting their support.
The Conservancy and our partners are continuing to learn more about the Yunnan golden monkey and use that research to find ways to keep the monkey from extinction.
You can also play a role in the Conservancy's efforts to save the Yunnan golden monkey when you support our work.
Yunnan Golden Monkey Distribution, 2009.