The golden creatures of Shennongjia

Updated: 2016-06-11 02:32

By Liu Kun,Liu Xiangrui(China Daily)

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The golden creatures of Shennongjia

Shennongjia Nature Reserve has been one of the most important habitats for golden snub-nosed monkeys, a rare primate living exclusively in China.

Years of close interaction with the monkeys has given

Huang and his colleagues an intimate knowledge of their charges' habits and traits. Each of the monkeys even has a name.

When Huang talks about the monkeys' lives he comes across as a proud parent talking about his offspring. That includes lovingly describing how one of the monkeys was born and recounting how a new male adult challenged and defeated an older male for supremacy in the group.

"I'm with the monkeys almost every day," Huang says. "We are very close now, and if I had to take a leave I would miss them so much."

Shennongjia, with mountains, thick forests and abundant rainfall that nurture diverse foods for animals, is an important habitat for the golden snub-nosed monkeys. Wild snub-nosed monkeys were first spotted there in the 1980s.

In 2005, the research center Huang works in was founded in Dalongtan, which is 2,300 meters above sea level and one of the natural habitats for the species.

The researchers selected a typical group of the monkeys that lived in a surrounding area of 8 square kilometers for long-term tracking and research.

The researchers track and observe the snub-nosed monkey population, and collect their feces and fur for research.

Huang says that at first life with the monkeys was dull, but he slowly acclimatized to the point where he could feel at one with them.

"The most important quality for working here is being able to withstand hardships."

These include severely cold weather and snow-blanketed roads in winter and mosquitoes and snakes in summer. In summer, the researchers often wake up at 4 am to track monkeys in the wild and do not return to their base until 8 pm.

In the early years, before the advent of electronic tagging, they would pack camping equipment and food, and sometimes remain in the wild for weeks on end doing tracking work.

"Often as the monkeys were jumping from tree branch to tree branch we would be scrambling along on the ground trying to keep up," Huang says. "No matter what the weather was we would be out there looking for them, and the monkeys have scratched almost all of us at some time or other."

One of the greatest challenges for the monkeys is the harsh climate, winter lasting as long as six months and temperatures dropping to -20 C. Some young, weak individuals have died of starvation and the cold.