A newly found population of a near-extinct monkey in Vietnam has scientists breathing sighs of relief.
“To put it into a human perspective, this discovery is like finding a new country with over one billion people in it,” says Ben Rawson, a regional wildlife biologist at Conservation International (CI). “That’s about how significant this is for the long term survival of the species.”
The discovery team’s youngest member, Tran Khanh Duong, graduated last year from CI’s primate training course at Hanoi University of Science. As a result of his participation, Duong has helped to uncover the largest known population of grey-shanked doucs (Pygathrix cinerea) ever found.
“When I gave up economics to pursue my passion for wildlife, I never dreamed that I would be able to make such an impact,” says Duong.
Armed with knowledge gained from the training course, Duong won a $500 grant from CI to conduct surveys of the douc’s habitat in central Quang Nam Province. His results expanded on a new protected area study in 2005 by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which first discovered the tree-dwelling primate in a small section of the province.
The combined surveys recorded at least 116 animals, and scientists estimate the population could be as high as 180. Since the surveys were restricted to a small area, there is hope that more doucs could survive in adjacent forests. The grey-shanked douc is known to live in only five central Vietnamese provinces.
Primates in Danger
With fewer than 1,000 left in the world, the douc’s future seemed bleak. It ranks consistently among the most endangered primates, and until now, scientists knew of just one other population greater than 100 animals. The species, whose white-haired beard makes a striking contrast against its dark grey fur, was first described in 1997.
The douc’s precarious state is not unique to primates in Vietnam. Almost all of the nation’s 25 species have some type of threatened status. In 2006, an IUCN-World Conservation Union assessment of Asian primates determined that 65 percent of Vietnamese species are endangered or worse. Illegal hunting and loss of habitat are the primary causes for the decline.
“It’s very rare to discover a population of this size with such high numbers in a small area, especially for a species on the brink of extinction,” says Barney Long of WWF’s Greater Mekong-Vietnam Programme. “This indicates that the population has not been impacted by hunting like all other known populations of the species.” Training the Young
Scientific studies of Vietnam’s remarkable wildlife are vital, yet rare. Few people have the proper training to conduct conservation work on primates, and funding for research is limited. The Southeast Asian nation also lacks reference material that other countries typically use to guide their conservation decisions.
To fill these voids, CI offers an intensive training course designed to nurture early career conservationists like Duong. Sponsored by CI, Hanoi University of Science, University of Colorado-Boulder, and Frankfurt Zoological Society, the three-week long program instructs students in topics ranging from ecology to data analysis to field-based activities. Successful trainees are then given an opportunity to pursue further research with financial aid from CI.
Duong recently accepted a job at WWF, putting his country’s conservation future on firmer footing.
“It is a real vindication of the training course that such a small amount of money can have such a large impact both in terms of primate conservation and career development for young scientists,” says Rawson.