China / Science

New golden monkey variety found in SW China

(Xinhua) Updated: 2012-05-16 19:39

KUNMING - Chinese scientists have identified a variety of snub-nosed monkey living in southwestern Yunnan Province, making China home to four of five varieties of the endangered primates.

The species, identified as Rhinopithecus strykeri, was first discovered in Myanmar in 2010, and is known as the Nujiang Golden Monkey in Chinese, said Long Yongcheng, chief scientist for China program of the Nature Conservancy.

"The newly-discovered snub-nosed monkeys are covered in black fur, weigh 20-30 kg, measure 1.2 meters long and bear significant differences from the Yunnan Golden Monkey," Long said.

Long, who is also the director of the China Primate Specialist Group, said researchers located 50 to 100 such monkeys in March, but more studies are needed to reveal the exact population and habitat of the animal.

Snub-nosed monkeys, or golden monkeys, are a critically-endangered species. Among the estimated 25,000 currently living, three varieties are endemic to China and the fourth inhabits Vietnam.

In 2010, a new variety of snub-nosed monkey was found in Myanmar. Local villagers said the monkeys bury their faces between their knees when it rains as rainwater flows into their uncovered nostrils, causing them to sneeze.

Believing that such monkeys also existed near China's border region with Myanmar, scientists combed the mountains of Yunnan and managed to photograph a snub-nosed monkey in the Gaoligong Mountain Natural Reserve in Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture in October 2011, and videotaped another in March 2012.

Researchers then conducted DNA tests on fur and excrement samples left by the monkeys, which showed a 98.2-percent similarity between their DNA sequences and those of their peers in Myanmar.

Researchers are calling for urgent government measures to enhance protection and put an end to hunting activities by residents unaware of the animal's endangered status.

"We've put 'Nujiang' in their Chinese name, as we hope it will boost local people's awareness of, and enthusiasm for, protecting the animal," Long said.

Forestry authorities in Nujiang said they have dispatched more forces to monitor and protect the golden monkeys, as well as to educate local residents on the monkey's endangered status.

According to official data, there are about 20,000 Sichuan Golden Monkeys, 3,000 Yunnan Golden Monkeys and 1,000 Guizhou Golden Monkeys living in high-altitude mountains in central and Southwest China.

Like the giant panda, the monkeys are counted among China's "national treasures" and placed under top state protection. Conservationists have said the species is threatened by shrinking habitats and hunters who crave their shiny furs.

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