The Cat Ba Langurs

Cat 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 hunters' guns.

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.

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