Fresh hope for endangered primates

New Asian reserves could save species with just 300 individuals in the wild
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Two of the world's rarest primates, the cao vit gibbon and the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey, now have a more secure future after the creation of safe havens for them in China and Vietnam.

Once thought extinct, both species are now on the critically endangered list, with just 110 cao vit gibbons and about 200 Tonkin snub nosed monkeys left in the world, and it is hoped the new forest reserves will increase their chances of survival.

The British wildlife charity Fauna and Flora International (FFI), which works for wildlife protection in developing countries, was instrumental in setting up the new protected areas, which house the gibbon's only known population, and the most viable population of the monkey.

The new gibbon sanctuary, the 6,500-hectare Bangliang Nature Reserve in China's Guangxi Province, is directly adjacent to Vietnam's Cao Vit Gibbon Conservation Area, which FFI helped to establish in 2007. The Bangliang reserve more than quadruples the amount of protected forest for the gibbon, and the two protected areas together contain the world's last examples of the species.

"This increase in the amount of protected cao vit gibbon habitat is a huge success for FFI and for conservation in the region," said Luo Yang, FFI's China programme manager. "FFI has been encouraging the local government to establish this new reserve ever since the species was discovered in China in 2006. The cao vit gibbon currently lives mainly on the Vietnamese side of the border but it now has the chance to extend its population into China. The future for the species now looks much brighter."

The other protected area, in Khau Ca forest, in Ha Giang Province, northern Vietnam, contains 90 Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys. The new 2,000-hectare reserve also supports a relatively pristine sub-tropical forest with a wide range of other wildlife like macaques, lorises, small carnivores and rare plant species.

"This new reserve protects the most viable Tonkin snub-nosed monkey population and so represents the species' best chance for survival," said Paul Insua-Cao, the charity's Vietnam primate programme manager. "FFI is proud to have helped to establish the protected area and congratulates the provincial government and local communities on their new reserve."

The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus avunculus) is endemic to north-western Vietnam and was thought to be extinct until the 1990s. The cao vit gibbon (Nomascus nasutus) was also thought to be extinct until rediscovered by an FFI team in 2002. The main threat to both species is habitat loss.