Cat Ba Langurs
Ba is a large forested limestone island in Ha Long Bay, about
20km by boat from Haiphong. It has a population of about 15,000,
mostly living in Cat Ba town. It is also home to one of the most
beautiful primates in the world, the Cat Ba Langur. However, the
langurs are also set to become known internationally for another
reason - unless a miracle occurs soon, they will be the first
large primate species to become extinct in 300 years!
Why is there a crisis?
A century of incessant war and hunger has resulted in the depletion
of wildlife for food and left many of Vietnam's rare species struggling
for survival, some of which are dangerously close to disappearing
forever. Among the most endangered, Vietnam's few surviving Ca Ba
Langurs are the last of their kind in the world, apart from two
orphans in a rescue centre elsewhere. Only fifty-nine individuals
remain deep in the forest, with only six breeding males. Although
the densely wooded area is a protected National Park, an acute lack
of resources leaves the langurs vulnerable to poachers, hunters
and encroachment on their habitat by development on the island.
What is being done?
At present, there is little standing between the langurs and oblivion.
However, the Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species
and Populations, and the Cat Ba Langur Project led by Rosi Stenke,
a 45 year old field biologist from Munich in Germany, are making
strenuous efforts to reverse their downward slide. Rosi came to
Cat Ba in 2000 and has committed herself to saving the langurs.
Undaunted by the lack of resources and difficult circumstances at
that time, and working almost single-handed, she has been remarkable
successful. In the nine months before her arrival, 30 langurs were
killed by poachers. Since then, only three have fallen prey to the
Thanks to a $60,000 donation by the
US, some of the island's problems are being addressed. Effective
waste disposal measures are being put into place, a fresh water
supply pipeline is under construction, and initiatives to improve
the living conditions of impoverished farmers and make them less
reliant on forest products are being implemented. These long-term
activities are vital to secure the island's remarkable bio-diversity.
Nevertheless, in the short term the
langurs' grip on their lifeline is perilously frail. The population
has been stabilised, but at a precariously low level - poachers
could easily tip the balance at any time. Rosi has recruited a group
of farmers from among the local population and trained them to become
Forest Rangers. They are committed to protecting the six communities
of langurs scattered across the forest and small offshore islands
and are successfully keeping the poachers at bay.
What help is needed?
Unfortunately, there are not enough funds to undertake a desperately
needed breeding programme to strengthen the survival prospects of
the six small groups of langurs. Breeding programmes usually involve
capturing animals, breeding offspring and releasing them into the
wild. In Cat Ba, the situation requires a different approach.
The small langur colonies are divided
by agricultural activities and shrimp farming lagoons leaving the
groups isolated and unable to move freely. To enable the separate
langur groups to reconnect, 'migration corridors' free of human
activity must be created by returning the land to its natural state.
Because the farms and shrimp pools are the source of income of many
poor farmers, land purchase and compensation is necessary. Where
breeding males are trapped on islands, they must be captured and
released in colonies comprising only females. This requires expensive
expertise and equipment.