“It is not enough to understand the natural world; the point is to defend and preserve it”
Since the only Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys kept in zoos have all been within China’s borders, this primate was virtually unknown to the rest of the world until the 1990s. And, like so many other species, it had been ruthlessly hunted for meat, fur and the pet trade. Now, to a certain extent, it is protected. A lot of support has been drummed up for the species in China, but when it comes to a choice between conservation and feeding a family, the snub-nosed monkey still gets the short straw.
The Yunnan snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus bieti), also known as the black snub-nosed monkey, lives at high altitudes and in extreme temperatures, which can fall below freezing for several months of the year. To cope with this inhospitable climate, it has a long, soft, dense coat. Adult coats are mainly black with white on the front and flanks, whereas babies are born all white and change colour as they grow older. Unusually, they all have deep pink human-like lips. But, it’s their noses which are probably their most distinguishing feature. There are no nasal bones and the nostrils are turned up, sometimes giving them quite a bizarre appearance.
Due to the remoteness of their habitat and their elusive nature, little is known about the breeding habits in the wild. Like other primates, the snub-nosed monkey births at night, making observation difficult. One study showed mating occurred all year round but peaked in August, and births peaked from February to April with one baby being born at a time.
Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys live in large groups which are made up of lots of smaller family groups; consisting of one adult male, three to five females and their various offspring. The whole group travel and rest together.
High-altitude coniferous and evergreen broadleaf forests. The highest altitude recorded being four thousand seven hundred meters. Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys rarely seem willing to descend below an altitude of three thousand meters, even in extreme weather conditions.
China’s Yunnan Province and the Tibet Autonomous Region.
What they eat
Although folivorous, lichens are now an important part of their diet.
Habitat loss, inbreeding and poaching. Despite laws being in place, illegal logging and hunting still persist. There is a very low birth rate for Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys, who will birth only once every three years. Add that to the infant mortality rate of 50% and the future doesn’t look so hopeful. Then there are the ‘accidents’. The little monkey is often trapped in snares intended for other species, such as musk deer.
The Yunnan snub-nosed monkey is listed on the IUCN Red List Of Threatened Species as Endangered. It is also protected under CITES Appendix I. The Chinese authorities, along with Nature Conservancy and Conservation International, launched the Yunnan Golden Monkey Program, thereby putting some considerable effort into saving this species. A national logging ban was brought in on all old-growth forests in China in 1998. And, hunting of this primate was banned (with almost all hunting guns confiscated) in 1975, following prolonged targeting for food, fur and pets, which brought the species close to extinction. Most of these monkeys now live in protected areas.
Due to these concentrated and long-term conservation efforts, individuals have now increased in numbers to almost three thousand, across both locations. That is an increase of 50% on 1990’s numbers.
China does have a captive breeding program, which also seems moderately successful. The species is still not found in any other zoos outside China.
With their penchant for lichen, the monkeys have become an important part of the ecosystem of the ancient forests they inhabit, and their loss would have an adverse effect on such locations.