Hanging Out with Vietnam's Critically Endangered Primates

Hanging Out with Vietnam's Critically Endangered Primates
Credit: Ryan Deboodt
Why you need to know

A new video gets some enthralling footage of Vietnam's 25 primate species, eight of which are critically endangered.

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Vietnam is home to 25 primate species, eight of which are critically endangered. A new video aims to help the public put a face to some of their names.

The short video, a collaboration between Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and videographer Ryan Deboodt, features incredible footage of some of the country's most spectacular animals.

These include the red-shanked douc langur, fewer than 2,000 of which remain in the wild; the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey, which only number up to 250 individuals; the Cat Ba langur, with fewer than 60 left; the Delacour's langur, which number up to 200; and the Cao Vit gibbon, with an estimated 120-130 animals left.

These species face an array of threats including habitat loss, hunting and rapid urbanization.

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Credit: Ryan Deboodt
A red-shanked douc langur leaps across a tree.

Deboodt, who shot a spectacular 2015 video on Son Doong for National Geographic, first started noticing some of these primates while shooting in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.

"I couldn't believe that there was a species as beautiful and unique as the red-shanked douc langur and that I had never heard of them," he tells Saigoneer in an email.

He adds, "This started my journey documenting primates in Vietnam...I eventually made my way to Son Tra to photograph the doucs there for myself, and on my fourth or fifth time there I met Josh Kempinski [FFI's country director]."

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Credit: Ryan Deboodt
An adolescent and an adult Tonkin snub-nosed monkey.

The two then decided to create a video to help bring these little-known species to broader public attention and raise awareness of their critically endangered status. The bulk of the filming took six weeks, with some animals easier to find than others.

"For example, the red-shanked doucs in Son Tra and the Delacour's in Van Long Nature Reserve were both quite easy to film due to easy access to both locations," Deboodt shares. "However, for species like the Cao Vit gibbon and the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey, the situation was very different."

Both live in remote mountainous areas near Vietnam's border with China, and Deboodt says that he and the supporting FFI staff were lucky to spend even 20 minutes around them over a full week of trekking through forests.

For his part, the filmmaker was extremely grateful for the experience. "To be honest, it was seriously humbling," Deboodt explains. "Trekking through the forest to see 10 percent of the entire world-wide population of a species is both exciting and tragic. These are animals that very few people will ever be able to see, and I am very honored that I have been given the chance."

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Credit: Ryan Deboodt
A Delacour's langur. Fewer than 200 remain in the wild in Vietnam.

Kempinski, meanwhile, hopes the video strikes a chord with people around the world, and especially in Vietnam.

"It's a cliche but also true, that we only protect what we value, and we cannot value something we don't know exists," he explains via email. "In all walks of life in Vietnam there are extremely low levels of knowledge regarding wildlife, including the rare, unique primates here. I would guess that more Vietnamese people know about gorillas or orangutans than the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey!"

Furthermore, Kempinski argues, now is the time to take the survival of these species seriously, before it's too late. "We think Vietnam has around 10 or so years in which it will be decided which primates go extinct...right now, all can be saved and brought back from the edge of the abyss, but for several species, without concerted action, we'll soon pass the point of no return," he says.

The Cat Ba langur is of particular concern, especially as the island it calls home continues to develop as a tourism destination.

Deboodt adds that these species should be a point of national pride, as well. "Vietnam is full of natural wonders and beauty, and these primates are one more thing the Vietnamese should be proud of and know just how special they are," he shares.

Check out the video created by FFI and Deboodt below:

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The News Lens has been authorized to republish this article from Saigoneer, an English-language digital platform covering urban development, history, food, culture and the arts in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and throughout Vietnam. The original can be found here.

TNL Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)

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