New population of endangered monkey found in northern Vietnam

A new population of the extremely rare Tonkin snub-nosed monkey, so-called because of its unusual and distinctive up-turned nose, has recently been discovered in a remote forested area of northern Vietnam.

The breed was actually believed to be extinct until sightings in the late 1980s; now only around 200 Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys are are left in the world.

The primate, scientifically known as Rhinopithecus avunculus, is listed as "critically endangered" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species. Unique to Vietnam, the species is now known to be present in two of Vietnam's northern-most provinces - Tuyen Quang and Ha Giang.

The finding was officially made by Fauna & Flore International (FFI), an organisation working to protect threatened species and ecosystems.

FFI set out to discover whether any more populations of the rare monkeys existed. While interviewing communities near the Chinese border last year, it emerged that villagers in the Tung Vai Commune had sighted the strange looking monkeys after seeing rare film footage of them.

On the strength of these reports, in April 2008 an FFI-led team of biologists observed 15-20 of the monkeys in the nearby forest, including three infants - an indication that this is a breeding population. The monkeys were located in a small forest patch in Quan Ba District, Ha Giang Province, near the Chinese border.

Local reports indicate that another - possibly larger - group also exists. Two photographs of one member of the new population has been captured. The fleeting glimpse of an adult male scampering through the trees is the only photographic evidence of Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys in Quan Ba District.

The village surveys carried out by FFI in and around Tung Vai were funded by the Flagship Species Fund, a joint initiative between FFI and the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Habitat loss and hunting for the bush meat and traditional medicine trades have been pushing the species to the brink of extinction. This new population provides a slim grain of hope for the future of the snub-nosed monkey, with FFI hoping the finding will focus greater attention on protecting them.