Save the Earth Visit to Son Tra Nature Reserve to Spot the Red Shanked Douc
On Sunday August 17th 2016, armed with cameras in hand; myself, Emma Murphy (my partner), Lukáš Kuzma (photographer), and Alex Konradova (Lukasz’s partner) embarked on a journey. This journey took us into the heart of the rainforest of the Son Tra Nature Reserve located on the Son Tra peninsula in Da Nang, somewhere midway between Hue, and Hoi An on the coast of central Vietnam. It has always been a lifelong dream of mine to see these endangered gems of the forest with my own eyes since I was a child, as it was for my partner Emma.
The Environment of the Red-Shanked Douc
The views from atop of the Son Tra peninsula were astounding, consisting of panoramic vistas of the nearby city of Da Nang, the surrounding islands and the many beaches dotted around the area. Far off are the mountain ranges towards the coffee growing region of Dalat. The forest itself is hot and sticky with a moist climate, very rugged and mountainous, with a few gushing waterfalls, and plenty of foliage in the dense jungle. The winding roads are narrow and spiralling, with a haunting chorus of the many resident bird and insect species making the reserve their home, most notably the piercing sounds of the very noisy cicadas, a very vocal arboreal (tree-dwelling) insect. These ironically sound rather like a continuous chainsaw, the sound of their impending doom. Will they lose their beautiful habitat through illegal logging, and forest destruction?
Why did we visit these Langurs?
We had a very special reason for visiting this wonderful place. Our reason being a passion for wildlife and in particular a concern for endangered species with very low populations. In this particular case it was to see for ourselves the wild populations of the Red-shanked Douc (pronounced “dook”). Douc is Vietnamese for “monkey”. These beautiful monkeys are curious looking little primates which are among the most highly colourful monkey species in the world. This species belongs to the old-world langur family, and unfortunately they are highly endangered.
Green Viet and the Red-Shanked Douc
We met our guide from Green Viet at the headquarters in Da Nang was very welcoming. She was accompanied by other fantastic and enthusiastic people, who are dedicated to the study and preservation of the remaining Red-shanked douc populations, and to understand the best practices to help ensure the survival of the Red-shanked douc, as well as all the other species living up in the Son Tra Nature Reserve peninsula’s rainforests. They all spoke a little English, albeit with great difficulty, so some things were lost in translation, but eventually the point was gotten across to us with regards to the conservation efforts they are currently running.
In order to reach the home of the Red-shanked douc, we had to travel by mini-cab and motorcycle which travelled by winding through the very narrow roads leading up to the location where we had the best chance of catching a glimpse of the monkeys we were so desperate to see, and luckily we were not left disappointed. There are also small but viable populations of Yellow Macaques and Rhesus Macaques in the nature reserve, which share this peaceful forest habitat with the Red-shanked douc, as well as the wonderfully cute, nocturnal (active only at night) pygmy slow loris, which is the unfortunate victim of the pet trade because of it’s cuteness. These wonderful little prosimian primates with huge eyes are best left in the rainforest where they belong, as are all species including the Red-shanked douc.
The Red-Shanked Douc
The monkey species we had come all this way to see, the Red-shanked doucs are social monkeys that live in small groups from up to 4 to 15 individuals per group. They are diurnal (daytime active), and live in the mid to upper level of the treetops in the canopy of the rainforests in the Son Tra Nature Reserve on the Son Tra peninsula of central Vietnam, there are also small populations living in adjacent Laos, China and Cambodia. Red-shanked doucs are extremely arboreal, but don’t have a prehensile tail (a tail which grips branches rather like a fifth limb), they have a very long white tail which is used mainly for balance when traversing through the tree top canopy.
Leaf Eating Monkeys
This particular species is a leaf-eating monkey which specialises in eating leaves from up to 50 different species of trees which are high in fibre, along with their fruits which they find while crashing through the canopy noisily in their family groups when searching for the most succulent leaves and ripe fruits to gorge themselves upon, they are quite notably very messy eaters. The most striking feature other than the red-shank on their calves, is their curious strikingly odd looking little orangey-red faces which are flanked by a white beard, and a red fringe just below the neckline and beard, which is more prominent in males. They have a grey rump, which are also more prominent in the males, they also have bright red calfs and black upper legs/thighs.
On the Brink of Extinction
In Vietnam alone as much as 70% of their population has been lost in a span of just 30 years, the sad reality is that Red-shanked doucs may become extinct in Vietnam in the next 10 years because of poaching, hunting and habitat loss, their situation has now reached a crisis point. So unless concerted efforts to preserve them are met we could lose this extraordinary species forever. There’s hope, the Douc Langur Foundation (DLF) was set up in 2007, its main objective is to protect Red-shanked doucs in Vietnam and their wild habitat, thereby ensuring their survival and longevity for generations to come. Our aim with the Save the Earth Cooperative is to work with those organisations who work tirelessly to preserve the remaining populations of this region, and through the Save the Earth Cooperative, lend our support to the already flat-out busy projects for the conservation of this wonderful species.
War, Deforestation and Poaching
There are no more than just 300 animals alive today, the outlook looks bleak with such a small number, however all is not lost, there are many projects which have been designed to benefit the remaining populations, most notably by the Frankfurt Zoological Society in Germany, and The Douc Langur Foundation (DLF) who have set up camp on the Son Tra Peninsula to lend their hand and expertise to the cause of preservation, and saving the Red-shanked douc from certain extinction. Unfortunately these fabulous primates have been the victims of human habitat destruction, many of the former regions were heavily bombed by the United States Air Force during the Vietnam war, where the horrendous Agent Orange (a herbicidal defoliant developed by Monsanto in the United States) was dropped via the relentless bombing campaigns to decimate large swathes of rainforest where the Red-shanked douc was most abundant. They are also the victims of hunting by the local populations for food, and also for body parts to be used in Chinese medicine, but there is absolutely no scientific evidence or proof of this exploitation having the desired effect when using them for medicinal purposes as is believed by those who continue to use the Red-shanked douc for body parts.
Save the Earth Members Could Help the Red-Shanked Douc
All in all this was a most beautiful experience, one we will always treasure for the rest of our lives; our first meeting with the Red-shanked doucs of South East Asia. We would like to be part of the ongoing conservation efforts for this species, and are happy to help out when and where necessary to ensure the future survival of this fabulously curious looking little monkey species, of the beautiful surrounding forests containing them, and all the other species which live in the canopy of the Son Tra Nature Reserve area. We most certainly will back back in the near future, as we aim to film the Red-shanked douc whilst camping in the rainforest in the Son Tra Nature Reserve’s rainforests for a while, and hopefully we will get an opportunity to see the pygmy slow lorises when we stay within the reserve. Long live the Red-shanked douc, forever.
with special thanks to everyone at Green Viet who made this trip possible.
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Photographs by Lukáš Kuzma