Chinese biologists have published the first photo evidence that a population of the recently discovered snub-nosed monkey, Rhinopithecus strykeri, lives in China.
Until now researchers have been unable to photograph the monkey, whose upturned nostrils are said to make it sneeze in the rain.
The species was first discovered by a team led by Ngwe Lwin from the Myanmar Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association in 2010. It was believed that the species was isolated to the Kachin State of north eastern Myanmar.
However, the new discovery, published in the American Journal of Primatology, reveals the international range of this critically endangered species.
The new expedition travelled to the Yunnan province of China after a forest guard, Liu Pu, took photos of a group of snub-nosed monkeys in a forest in near Pianma, in Yunann’s Lushui County.
“The population of this species is hard to estimate, but based on our contacts with the monkey group both in October 2011 and in March 2012 we estimate the population to be less than 100 individuals,” said lead author Dr Yongcheng Long of the Nature Conservancy China Program.
“However, while we now know the home range to be far greater than previously believed, we still do not yet know the true population number or the extent of their home range as the monkeys are shy and very hard to access.”
Local hunters claim the monkey is easy to find when it is raining because they often get rainwater in their upturned noses causing them to sneeze. However, long term observations did not show that they spend rainy days sitting with their heads tucked between their knees as the hunters also claim.
The monkey has almost entirely blackish fur with white fur only on ear tufts, chin beard and perineal area. It also has a relatively long tail, approximately 140% of its body size.
“After the discovery of the new species of Snub-nosed Monkey in Myanmar we conducted hunter interview surveys along the Chinese-Myanmar border which suggest at least one group in contiguous forest across the border in Yunnan. I contacted Long Yongchen my friend and colleague from the IUCN primate specialist group who followed and organized the first surveys that document the presence of the Myanmar ‘snubby’ in China,” said Frank Momberg of Fauna & Flora International, Myanmar Program Director.
“The discovery of Rhinepithecus strykeri in China gives a bit more hope for the species survival, however the population is still considered critically endangered, due to the high level of threats and very small population.”
“This monkey group was actually found in an area designated as a nature reserve 30 years ago and while local people have been hunting the species for ages, local managers knew nothing about it,” Dr Long concluded. “This highlights the need to improve wildlife management in China, as it is likely quite a few new species of plants and animals may be discovered in the border areas between China and Myanmar.”
Bibliographic information: Long Y et al. 2012. Rhinopithecus strykeri Found in China! American Journal of Primatology, article first published online 26 jun 2012; doi: 10.1002/ajp.22041