Saving Monkeys Takes a Team

An adolescent male Guizhou snub-nosed monkey

San Diego Zoo Global and China’s Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve Administration are working together to conserve the last remaining population of Guizhou snub-nosed monkeys, currently numbering about 750 individuals. Most people probably have never heard of these monkeys. That’s because Guizhou snub-nosed monkeys are elusive and difficult to observe in the wild. Although a troop typically contains 100 to 200 individuals, the monkeys are extremely wary of potential predators, nowadays mainly humans. Also, Fanjingshan is steep in topography, making it a challenge for researchers to conduct fieldwork. Nevertheless, since we began our collaborative research in 2007, we have been advancing our knowledge of the monkeys’ habitat and dietary requirements, information that is essential for the species’ long-term survival.

March in Fanjingshan, Yangaoping research area. Photo credit: Kefeng Niu

A successful conservation endeavor requires a team of dedicated people. I am fortunate to work directly with the reserve director, Yeqin Yang, a fellow biologist whose legacy resides in protecting the Guizhou snub-nosed monkey, the cornerstone species in the reserve. Partnering with the reserve administration has truly been a privilege. In China, rarely do foreign scientists have direct access to reserve administrations. It is often the case that foreign scientists join an in-country academic who establishes and maintains the relationship with protected area management. Needless to say, working through an intermediary is not the most effective way to carry out one’s research and conservation objectives.

April in Fanjingshan, Yangaoping research area

This year, besides incorporating camera-trap technology in our scientific investigations of the monkeys, we are adding an education component to our in situ conservation efforts. With funds from the Offield Family Foundation, San Diego Zoo Global, Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve Administration, International Primatological Society, and an anonymous donor, we have developed a conservation education program that is socioculturally relevant to the rural setting in Fanjingshan. Heading this program in the reserve administration is one of their engineers, Kefeng Niu, a promising young scientist with great determination and leadership qualities. The program, called “Little Green Guards,” targets primary school children and aims to foster a generation of environmentally conscious citizens. Through games, storytelling, arts, and music, we want to instill empathy and respect toward wildlife in children living near nature reserves.

The Little Green Guards logo, designed by one of our enthusiastic volunteers, Bing Yang.

Conservation education is still a novel concept to most Chinese, and appreciation for nature and wildlife is incompatible with traditional utilitarian views on natural resources. With a country of over 1.3 billion people, the Little Green Guards have a long march ahead. We believe in our team efforts, and we are hopeful that our regional conservation movement will gain momentum and garner national and international support.

Chia Tan is a scientist with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

6 Responses to Saving Monkeys Takes a Team

  1. Thank you for the update, Chia! How clever and forward-thinking to start the Little Green Guards program. I applaud your efforts and wish your team all the best. It’s not easy tracking those monkeys!

    • Thank you, Zoodog, for your kind wishes! We hope you’ll come see the monkeys and check out the LGG program in Fanjingshan. Take care! Chia

  2. Chia, Thanks for the cooperation with Kefeng Niu to for Green Guards and saving endangered species. I appreciate it started. I have experiences in Nepal too such endavour since 1998 with the support of ASP my team recognised and saved many Assamese monkey Nepal Population that consist unique and typical characters than common Assamese monkeys. It could be new species in remote Himalayan gorges. I appreciate your work. Best, Mukesh

    • Dear Mukesh,
      Many thanks for your support! I’m raising funds to organize a regional conservation education workshop in Fanjingshan next year. We want to explore diverse styles of increasing public awareness and developing culturally relevant learning materials for young audiences. I hope you’ll take part and share your experience and knowledge with us. Best of luck with your primate conservation efforts in Nepal! One of these days I will find time to come visit! Chia

  3. Majority of the people living in the forest area depends upon the agriculture and forest product for their livelihood . Due to deciduous forest and lack of herbs and shrubs , the primary consumer specially monkey started to city life . Most of the monkey enter the residence area through the adjacent places and becomes conflict with people. It is truth that primates are part of ecosystem that is why awareness programs through environment education is also reality, this kind of education is important from Primary School children . We can be ‘a drop of ocean’ to do such a conservation work. It is appreciated and more scientific, best of luck for “ little Green Guards.”

    • Dear Bishwanath,
      Thank you for your comments. I was so inspired by the photos of you teaching primate behavior and conservation to your middle school students in villages of Nepal. Keep up the excellent work! And do check out Idea Wild if you are seeking audio-visual equipment for your classroom. All the best, Chia