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Man spends 15 years protecting endangered douc langurs in national park

By Tran Hoa   January 25, 2023 | 01:27 am PT
Nguyen Ai Tam has been studying and protecting the endangered douc langur at the Kon Ka Kinh National Park for more than 15 years.

After graduating in biology-environment from the University of Da Nang in 2006, Tam taught for a few months before joining a research project to protect the gray-shanked douc langur at the park in Gia Lai Province.

He has been working for the German conservation organization Frankfurt Zoological Society from the same year.

Spending more time in the forest than at home, he observes, records and studies the behavior of the primate that is found only in Vietnam.

A gray-shanked douc langur at Kon Ka Kinh National Park, Gia Lai Province. Photo courtesy of Tam

A gray-shanked douc langur at Kon Ka Kinh National Park, Gia Lai Province. Photo courtesy of Tam

Frequently he and a team of five to 10 people go on field trips that can last up to 12 days.

On average, the project personnel traverse 20 km in a day.

Tam figures out what the monkeys eat by studying the marks on foods like fruits and the smell of their urine.

He carries around a backpack with a hammock, pots and pans, rice, dry food, a GPS locator, a flashlight, and a few other items.

In the first few months he would use the GPS and try to remember stumps, streams and other landmarks to navigate his way back to the camp without using it.

"It took me more than two years to finish the project," he says.

"I tracked their eating and resting habits, as well as the times of the year when they congregate in big groups."

He recalls one time when he and another researcher were on a field trip from early morning, and saw about 15 of the primates resting in a ravine.

They sat to watch and take notes and pictures.

Early in the afternoon they began climbing into the high mountains, and the two followed them to see their resting spot.

The two stayed in the cold all night, ate raw instant noodles and did not light a fire fearing the smoke would scare off the douc langurs.

"We managed to collect lots of useful information during that trip."

Nguyen Ai Tam installs a camera trap inside Kon Ka Kinh National Park, Gia Lai Province. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Oanh

Nguyen Ai Tam installs a camera trap inside Kon Ka Kinh National Park, Gia Lai Province. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Oanh

He plans to soon do research for his doctoral project on how local communities affect gray-shanked douc langur populations and the environment. He hopes through his project to help the monkeys and show local people how important it is to protect this endemic species.

The Frankfurt Zoological Society has gifted smartphones and computers to 10 Kon Ka Kinh National Park stations and forest protection teams, and Tam himself is an expert on using software for patrols and conservation research.

He has helped the park management with technical issues and taught the staff how to use the patrol application optimally.

When forest rangers install the app on their phones, it records information about their patrol routes, distance, location, the animals they encountered, and locations of shacks and traps.

This information is then sent to centralized software, which churns out reports that help protect forests.

Since 2017 Tam has helped set up camera traps that have recorded 32 different species of wildlife that live in the park, many endangered and in the Vietnam Red Book and international list of threatened species.

Tam and the rangers routinely dismantle animal traps and talk to poachers to persuade them into giving up their guns and stopping illegal hunting and joining them in protecting the forest.

Ngo Van Thang, deputy director of the park, says Tam is passionate about protecting the gray-shanked douc langurs and conserving biodiversity.

In 2020 Tam did a census and found there were more than 1,500 gray-shanked douc langurs. Until then it had been thought there were only 300-500 of them, and his study has helped the unit come up with better methods to protect the animals.

The Kon Ka Kinh National Park is 1,748 meters above sea level and spreads over 42,000 hectares.

It has 428 species of fauna including 42 mammals and 51 reptiles listed in Vietnam and globally as threatened. There are also many other rare species that are important for genetic conservation and scientific research.

 
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