August 26, 2004 (Torino, Italy) – The Delacour's langur (Trachypithecus delacouri), a charismatic monkey found only in a tiny area of northern Vietnam, is close to extinction, scientists at the International Primatological Society's 20th Congress reported today. New research suggests that as many as 200 of the remaining 300 individuals, one of the most threatened primates in the world, are likely to disappear within the next decade.
Scientists estimate that between 281 and 317 individuals still exist in 19 distinct populations. Rampant development separates the remaining populations of this langur species, preventing the groups from interacting with one another. Fourteen of the groups are likely to disappear within the next decade, since they either lack a breeding pair or have unsustainably tiny populations. When hunters kill a male critical for reproduction, for example, it spells annihilation for the entire group.
Delacour's langur is threatened mostly from hunting. Poachers kill the animal not only for meat, but for bones, organs and tissues that are used in the preparation of traditional medicines. Habitat destruction, development and the increase of agricultural lands also threaten the species.
Surprisingly, the monkeys are more likely to be killed within protected areas, since they are more densely forested and poachers are more difficult to spot. Since unprotected areas in northern Vietnam tend to have less wildlife, poachers often avoid them and regard them as less profitable, allowing the few remaining langur populations to survive. Conservation groups are working to increase the level of protection of the protected areas to ensure the survival of the species.
The Delacour's langur is so rare, that is was first described by science only in 1932. Until the late 1980s, there was virtually no information about the existence and distribution of the species. In the early 1990s, hundreds of the langurs were found on limestone mountain ranges in a small area in northern Vietnam that comprises an area of only 5,000 square kilometers.
The langur is distinguished from other largely black-colored Asian langurs due to its white cheek bands, large white saddle on its outer thighs, and its thickly furred tail.
"At the rate that Delacour's langur is disappearing, it is unlikely that future generations will ever know this species outside of history books," said Tilo Nadler, Vietnam Country Representative for the Frankfurt Zoological Society. "Still, we have a limited window of opportunity to save them, and we hope the international community will rally around this incredible monkey."
Conservation efforts to protect Delacour's langur are centered in two national reserves in northern Vietnam. In Van Long National Reserve, created three years ago, approximately 70 individuals remain in three separate populations. Five ranger stations with 20 rangers have been created in an effort to improve management of the area, largely funded by the Frankfurt Zoological Society.
In the other protected area, Pu Luong National Reserve, a larger number of rangers and excellent management are helping to save the two small remaining populations, containing a total of about 50 individuals. Joining the two subpopulations, however, is impossible due to the increasing amount of agricultural space that divides them.
"Delacour's langur is one of the most Critically Endangered primates in the world, and its status is indicative of what is happening with about 10 percent of the nonhuman primates, our closest living relatives. We don't have a lot time to reverse this situation, but there is some good news," said Russell A. Mittermeier, president of Conservation International. "Recent new commitments by the Vietnamese government and several international conservation organizations greatly increase the chances of saving this remarkable species."
The International Primatological Society was created to encourage all area of non-human primatological scientific research, to facilitate cooperation among scientists of all nationalities engaged in primate research, and to promote the conservation of all primate species. The Society is organized exclusively for scientific, educational and charitable purposes.
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