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Rare golden hair monkeys thrive in China's alpine nature reserve

Xinhua | Updated: 2024-05-30 10:21

Photo taken on May 27, 2024 shows two Yunnan golden hair monkeys. [Photo/Xinhua]

KUNMING -- At the crack of dawn, 72-year-old ranger Yu Jianhua began his journey into the depths of the mountains. His workday begins when he locates the black-and-white snub-nosed monkeys. He then follows them around till the sun goes down.

The Baima Snow Mountain National Nature Reserve in Southwest China's Yunnan province is home to a rare species of snub-nosed monkeys. Known as the Yunnan golden hair monkeys, these unique creatures exhibit human-like faces and feature black-and-white hairs.

Blessed with the tireless work done by "monkey guardians" like Yu and the broader conservation efforts, the species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species has not only survived but also thrived in the high-altitude alpine forests.

Preliminary data showed that the population of Yunnan golden hair monkey inhabiting the Baima Snow Mountain National Nature Reserve has jumped from about 540 in 1985 to about 2,500 today.

After 28 years of working tirelessly as a monkey guardian, Yu has nurtured a deep emotional bond with the primates. "A day without seeing these creatures would leave me missing them terribly."

However, Yu used to be a hunter like many other villagers and generations before them. Since the Baima Snow Mountain National Nature Reserve was launched in 1983, local villagers have foregone hunting as their way of living and turned to other trades. Yu joined the monkey guardian teams and has since worked as a front-line conservation staffer.

The monkey guardians overseeing the Xianggujing section of the nature reserve work in two teams, each made up of 10 team members. Their duties include dropping food around monkey habitats and guiding tourists and researchers to precise locations of these creatures.

During an interview, dozens of Yunnan golden hair monkeys were seen frolicking in the forests, some foraging for usnea, a kind of lichen and the species' "staple food," and some were fed hand-picked fruits by the monkey guardians.

Yu recalled how in the past human activities, such as hunting and logging, deteriorated the monkeys' habitats, forcing them to retreat further up the mountains.

However, with years of efforts, the nature reserve staff and monkey guardians have managed to attract a monkey troop from higher altitude habitats of over 3,500 meters to lower regions between 2,300 meters and 3,000 meters. This move aims to enhance their reproduction chances, with 10 baby monkeys having recently been born within the troop.

In addition to human guardians, technology has played an increasingly pivotal role in the conservation of Yunnan golden hair monkeys. High-resolution cameras installed in the nature reserve allow staff members to monitor the movements of monkey troops from behind screens.

Infrared cameras, drones, and remote sensing technology are also being utilized in the conservation work. The "monkey face" automatic recognition and automatic monitoring technology has been developed to realize dynamic monitoring of the monkey population, according to Lai Jiandong, director of the wild animal rescue station at the nature reserve.

China has created more than 11,000 natural protected areas, covering 18 percent of the country's total land areas, and with dedicated funding and management in place to conserve biodiversity.

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