By Zhang Fan, Xu Yuanfeng, People’s Daily Online
In Xiangguqing, located in Baima Snow Mountain National Nature Reserve in Deqin county, southwest China’s Yunnan province, live over 60 Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys from 10 “families.” It is the only place in China where people can observe the creatures closely.
These snub-nosed monkeys have established a unique relationship with the rangers who spend most of their time in the forest protecting the animals every day. Only with the calls of the rangers, they would come out from the thick forest and meet visitors.
With an upturned nose, pink lips and big eyes, the Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys are an endangered species unique to China under national first-class protection. They live in alpine forests with an altitude ranging from 2,500 to 4,700 meters.
Baima Snow Mountain National Nature Reserve sits in the core zone of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is home to around 60 percent of the total population of Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys.
China’s long-term protection efforts are paying off. The groups and population of the animals are constantly rising. As of the end of April this year, there had been 23 groups of the animals, up from 13 in 1996, according to a two-year monitoring program by the forestry and grassland bureau of Yunnan province. The total population of the Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys also rose from a number between 1,000 and 1,500 to over 3,300 during the same period.
To improve habitats is a prerequisite of biodiversity protection. In the past, many villagers near Xiangguqing made a living by hunting or lumbering, which severely impacted the habitats of the snub-nosed monkeys, and the number of monkey groups was on the decrease.
The protection of the creatures started in 1983 when the provincial government of Yunnan approved of establishing Baima Snow Mountain National Nature Reserve. A management administration has been set up in the reserve by the forestry department of Deqin county, together with multiple protection stations.
After decades of efforts, the number of rangers in Xiangguqing has been expanded from three to 28, many of whom were once hunters. Yu Jianhua, 69, is one of them. Yu lived on hunting between 14 and 45, and became one of the first three rangers protecting the Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys in 1997. He works from 6 am to 8 pm in Xiangguqing every day to safeguard the species. In the morning, he guides the animals from their habitats to the observation site, where he feeds them usnea and apples and meets visiting tourists.
Yu is able to recognize every monkey there, and can even tell their moods according to their cries. This owes to a “census” system established by scientific researchers that records “family profiles” of all snub-nosed monkeys, including family members, age structure and kinship.
“Field patrol can only discover monkey groups and help us gain a general knowledge of their amount and distribution, while the ‘census’ system allows us to have a closer look into the species, so that we can better carry out conservation biology and behavioral ecology studies,” said Zhong Tai, head of the management administration of Baima Snow Mountain National Nature Reserve.
Yu Jianhua’s son Yu Zhonghua has also been working as a ranger in the reserve for 15 years. “We always had to live in the wild on patrol missions in the old days, while now we have infrared cameras to observe animal activities and collect scientific data,” he told People’s Daily, adding that an infrared camera is able to monitor animals within two kilometers from it. The videos captured are directly sent to relevant departments of Yunnan province and Diqing Tibetan autonomous prefecture for remote control.
Yu Zhonghua’s experience told him that the Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys prefer biologically diverse places with stable forest ecology. “They would not go to man-made forests by a single species,” he said.
In July 2019, the forestry and grassland bureau of Yunnan province established a snub-nosed monkey protection network in collaboration with over ten social organizations and scientific institutions, including Yunnan Green Environment Development Foundation, to enhance conservation of the animals and their habitats. As of the end of last year, the protection network has restored 6,100 mu (407 hectares) of forests, where 630,000 spruces, Chinese white pines and firs are planted.
“The enhanced protection over Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys over the years is paying off,” said Xie Hongfang, former director of the management administration of Baima Snow Mountain National Nature Reserve. “Eyeing on the future, we will better mobilize surrounding villagers, and bring them more benefits with the protection efforts,” he said.
By Zhang Fan, Xu Yuanfeng, People’s Daily Online