Community lends hand to protect endangered douc langurs

By Dac Thanh   June 16, 2020 | 05:00 am PT
Community lends hand to protect endangered douc langurs
Nguyen Du uses binoculars to observe grey-shanked douc langurs in Hon Do Mountain, Quang Nam Province. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.
A group of volunteers have spent the past three years guarding a troupe of 60 endangered grey-shanked douc langurs in Quang Nam Province.

At 6 a.m. Monday, Nguyen Du, Nguyen Hai and Luong Thanh Van, from Tam My Tay Commune of the central province's Nui Thanh District, began their regular patrol.

Before taking off on their motorbikes, the three volunteers brought along water, food and machetes. The trio traveled for about one kilometer, crossed an acacia plantation forest and reached Hon Do Mountain, covered with more than 10 ha of natural forest, home to two douc langur families.

Du, using binoculars to observe the douc langurs eating leaves, estimated each family had about 10 offspring.

Tam My Tay used to be completely covered by natural forests, but was gradually cleared for cultivating acacia. Currently, the forest spans on 30 ha, all rocky mountains. Each peak has a narrow forest strip with a width of between 50-150 m and length of about 900 m. Many shrubs are interspersed with large trees covered with other natural forest ecosystems, which is different from the acacia plantation located 7-10 km away.

Inhabiting the forest are grey-shanked douc langurs, pig tailed macaques, deer and several bird, squirrel, and rat species, amongst others. As a result, this place is popular with hunters.

In 2017, Du invited Hai and Van to patrol and remove animal traps in the forest after reading there were no laws protecting the critically endangered douc langurs from poaching and deforestation. Though the volunteers have been called crooks, the group hopes its efforts would help the douc langur population thrive.

Douc langurs have their leafy meals in Quang Nam Province. Video by Bui Van Tuan.

By 2019, Tam My Tay had established a forest protection team consisting of 10 members led by Du. However, without funding, the team itself had to cover gas, meals and other expenses.

Team members took turns to patrol the forests and monitor douc langur movements regardless of weather conditions, scaling every peak from early morning to late at night.

"One night someone called to report seeing a flashlight on the mountain, suspecting there could be poachers hunting douc langurs. I mobilized the team, who discovered some locals merely searching for their lost cows," Du recalled. In case of actual violations, reports are immediately dispatched to forest rangers.

In early January this year, non-government biodiversity conservation center GreenViet agreed to provide the team an annual sponsorship of VND6 million ($260), each member receiving VND600,000 to cover gas.

"We are not burdened with money problems. We just want to lend a hand in protecting and guarding douc langurs from harm," Du said.

Van said douc langurs have been living in the mountains for many years but not many locals know they are endangered. Locals do not typically catch langurs though.

"This species is very clever, and can distinguish any threat," Van said.

He said many langurs sit and chew leaves in trees being cleared for acacia cultivation, often teasing the farmers toiling below. The group would only run for cover in case a stranger is detected.

A family of douc langurs in Hon Do Mountain, Quang Nam Province. Photo by VnExpress/Bui Van Tuan.

A family of douc langurs on Hon Do Mountain, Quang Nam Province. Photo by VnExpress/Bui Van Tuan.

Tran Huu Vy, director of GreenViet, said the forest strip in Tam My Tay is the only place in the world where people can easily spot grey-shanked douc langurs in the wild, adding locals are particularly keen on their protection.

A survey conducted in March by GreenViet estimated there are about 60 douc langurs from eight families. Compared to a 2018 survey, the number increased 10 individuals and two families, signifying the douc langur population is growing steadily.

However, Vy said there is also the possibility that langurs living in neighboring mountains have moved here.

To protect the douc langurs, local authorities of Quang Nam Province are developing a conservation plan with a budget of VND100 billion ($4.34 million) to restore the natural habitat.

Another possible option is that locals donate their forest land and later become shareholders of a cooperative eco-tourism business model. Shareholders will be entitled to manage, administer and share profits according to capital contribution shares.

Le Tri Thanh, chairman of Quang Nam Province, said: "Following the government's proposal, the province is looking to develop community tourism for locals to join, and then connect with tourist companies to draw visitors. This method will help reduce investment costs."

Grey-shanked douc langurs are endemic to Vietnam’s Truong Son mountain range in the central region. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists grey-shanked douc langurs as one of the 25 most threatened primate species in the world. Currently, this species still exists in the five provinces of Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh, Kon Tum and Gia Lai, with 1,500-2,000 individuals.

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