By John R. Platt
Here’s something you don’t see every day: video footage of the critically endangered Myanmar snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus strykeri), a species that was only discovered in 2010.
You can count at least 23 of the rare monkeys, out of a total population estimated to range from 260 to 330 individuals for the entire species, in the video below:
This first-ever video of the species was captured by Kaung Haung, a member of the local Law Waw tribe in Burma. He works with Fauna & Flora International (FFI), a nongovernmental organization, to monitor camera traps set up to photograph the monkeys. He was walking through the jungle to check on the contraptions when he heard something above him. Fortunately, he had a video camera with him. As an FFI press release recounts, “Full of excitement and with shaky hands he filmed the large band of snub-nosed monkeys leaping through the canopy up above him.”
Frank Momberg, FFI’s Myanmar program director, said this few seconds of video provides critical information about this species. “From this footage we are able to determine that they clearly live in large groups, unlike other leaf-eating monkeys that have been shown to live in smaller family units,” he said. “This means their social organization and behavior is similar to other snub-nosed monkeys, which sets the entire genus apart from other leaf monkeys. It also means that larger groups require large home ranges and larger areas of contiguous forest need to be protected to ensure the survival of the species.”
FFI team members discovered the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey four years ago, but the animals have only been seen in a few still camera–trap photos since then. The organization has been working to conserve the monkey’s habitat in northern Burma and establish a community ranger program and other alternative livelihoods for the people who live in the area and hunt wild animals for food. The species is also threatened by illegal loggers from China who are cutting down the forest habitat and have in the past engaged in armed combat with local peoples. FFI is trying to get the area where the monkeys live declared a national park, which could ease many of those pressures.
Myanmar snub-nosed monkeys are geographically separated from other snub-nosed species, all of which are also endangered. It has black fur, a tail 140 percent the length of its body and an upturned nose that collects water when it rains, causing the animals to sneeze. Now if only we had that on video!