Article par Immelda Ahawo (EnvIM 2019)


The natural process of life has always included the apparition of species, their evolution, their interactions with each other and their extinction. The turnover of species is an inevitable part of the life cycle, yet today we seem to be approching a phase of mass extinction. The 2019 IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services – the first inter-governmental global assessment on these topics – examines the state of nature, its ecosystems, and its contributions to people. As mentioned on the CIRAD website dedicated to this event “One of the conclusions is that humans are responsible for a sixth mass extinction that could threaten their very existence.”, (CIRAD, 2019).

With each extinction, earth is losing its biodiversity and the different ecosystems are losing balance. So far, 96 500 species are considered endangered or threatened according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list. An endangered species is a species that faces a high risk of extinction in the near future throughout all or a significant portion of its range, while a threatened species is a species at risk of becoming endangered. 25% of the species in the IUCN red list are mammals, meaning that 24 125 species are facing various risks of extinction. Furthermore, in 2017, out of the 3 326 identified endangered mammals, China was home to 61-90 of them.

In this article, we will focus on one of the mammals in question who happens to also be a national treasure: the golden monkey. There are four species of Golden monkeys in the world and three of them inhabit China and are under the State’s first-class protection. But what are the particularities of this monkey and what caused them to be endangered? Also, what are the solutions deployed on a local level for their protection?


Figure 1 : Countries with the most endangered mammals in the world,2017(The Eco Experts, 2017)
Figure 1 : Countries with the most endangered mammals in the world,2017(The Eco Experts, 2017)



Origins and facts

The three types of Rhinopithecus Roxellana or golden snub-nosed monkeys that are mainly found in the central part of mainland China are in : (四川)Sichuan, (甘肃)Gansu and (陕西)Shanxi provinces, as well as (神农架)ShenNongjia Nature Reserve in (湖北)Hubei Province.

A typical monkey of that kind is about 70 cm tall and the length of its tail is the same as that of its body or even longer. It has a flat nose with nostrils facing forward, full lips and no cheek pouch. Its name comes from the shape of its nose and also its beautiful and very unique fur, the latter also differs depending on the gender and also between the different types of monkeys.

The Sichuan Golden Monkey has blue fur on its cheek, which gives it another name “Blue Cheek Monkey”. Its habitat is principally Sichuan, Gansu and Shanxi provinces. Yunnan (云南) Golden Monkey has white fur on both sides of its face, and is mainly found in Yunnan, and Eastern Tibet. The third one is the (贵州)Guizhou Golden Monkey, which has an oval-shaped area of white fur between shoulders. Regarded as China’s “state treasure,” just like the giant pandas, golden monkeys are under the state’s top-level protection.

However, despite being a state treasure and sharing the same habitat as the giant pandas, they are currently the 25th most endangered primate species in the world. The New England Primate Conservancy estimated that the population of golden monkeys decreased by 50% in half a century, (Regan, 2018). To understand the crisis faced by the golden monkeys, it is necessary to first learn more about the primate itself, then the actions taken under the name of state top-level protection.


Figure 2: Photo of Hubei monkeys  (Huaju, 2016)
Figure 2: Photo of Hubei monkeys  (Huaju, 2016)



Natural habitat and way of life

Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou Golden Monkeys’ habitats are mainly in 1000 to 3000 m above sea level cold broadleaf mixed coniferous forests of China. The golden monkeys move uphill or downhill depending on the season. And they tend to prefer cold areas because they can withstand severe cold but cannot handle heat.

Autumn is the estrus period of the golden monkey, the female golden monkey is sexually mature earlier than the male, the female’s mature stage begins when she is around 4 or 5 years old, and the male’s begins while around 7 years old. The golden monkeys are mating all year round while the three months from August to October is their main mating period. The pregnancy lasts about 6 months and usually gives one baby at a birth. The newly born baby monkey has a dark blue face and a brownish-brown color. After one month, the weight is more than one kilogram. In the adult monkey group, the ratio of male to female is about 1:2, (Regan, 2018).

As the altitude of the habitat increases, the estrus of different species of golden monkeys will be delayed.

The monkeys live in colonies, which are composed of several groups of maximum 600 individuals. Females bear one offspring at a time, and they usually have a typical family lifestyle. The family members take care of each other at all time, until the young ones reach adulthood when they have to live by themselves (Regan, 2018).

Most of their activities take place in the trees, but they can come down to feed. Their diet consists of fruits, leaves, seeds, bamboo shoots, bugs, eggs and birds. Eating on the ground makes them vulnerable to their predators.


The threats and the Chinese protection programs:

The threats that are provoking the rapid reduction of golden monkeys’ numbers are shared between endangered primates and other species. They encompass deforestation, mass tourism, hunts and also the fast development of urban areas close to the primates’ habitat  (Li, 2018).

Different strategies can be observed to deal with the different threats. They could be directly targeting the primate or be more indirect. One of the indirect ways is by restoring damaged forests. The monkeys need healthy forests to thrive, so restoring forests and ecosystems is a good way to try to undo urbanization’s, damages on their environment. Hence, China developed important afforestation policies, and since 1999, has restored forest landscapes across more than 28 million hectares of farmland and land classified as barren or degraded (Dayne, 2017).


The grain for green program-GFGP, and other afforestation policies

Figure 3: The Trends of tree cover changes from 2000 to 2014.(Wang, 2017)


The ” Conversion of Cropland to Forest Program” (CCFP), also known as “Grain for Green”, is one of the many programs instituted by china to help fight climate change. The CCFP program pays farmers to plant trees on their land and also provides rural families with degraded land to restore. As the different provinces in China developed at various rate, population augmentation and fast urbanization impacts as well as provincial government reactions were different. In Guangdong province for example, which is home to a species of golden monkey, the rapid development of the Pearl Delta River region (Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Hong Kong …) didn’t have a strong impact on the forest lands. “The province attaches great importance to the protection of natural resources and environment. At present, Guangdong is home to 270 forest natural reserves and 459 forest parks.” (China Daily, 2016). The provincial government participated in the CCFP program, and even launched their own afforestation program in 2011, which is still helping forest lands restoration up to this day.

If we include direct payments to more than 32 million of rural households, the CCFP has so far cost more than 40 billion $ and affected 124 million people.(Dayne, 2017)

Another important actor in China’s afforestion progams is the China Center for Forest Economics and Development Research (FEDRC). In 2013, they signed a partnership with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) to support the monitoring and evaluation of the CCFP. The CIFOR then became the first foreign organization to access data from China’s National Restoration Program. In the same dynamic, some African countries like Ethiopia are inspired by Chinese progresses in restoring their lands. Therefore another form of the Sino-African friendship is related to environmental issues. It is interesting to note that the fourth golden monkey species is found in central Africa and is also endangered. Hopefully, the Chinese government would share with Ouganda, Rwanda and Congolese government their protections policies.

Except preserving the forest, natural habitat of the golden monkey many their actions are need in order to protect them. One other method is through education and symbolization.


Preserving by education

Figure 4: Photo of ANGELA CUN with local students. (Whitley Funds, 2016)
Figure 4: Photo of ANGELA CUN with local students. (Whitley Funds, 2016)


Direct interactions involving the Golden monkeys, their ecosystems and humans often resulted the destruction of the animal’s habitat. Rampant logging, needs for biofuels and rapid development of the area, are the main reasons behind the primate’s habitat destruction, (Whitley Funds, 2016). The animals are also hunted and killed for food, fur and leather as well as illegal exotic animal trading. It became necessary to raise awareness amongst the local about the loss that would result if such habits remained. This is why Angela’s team project of a community-based conservation education campaign in China’s (老君山)LaoJunshan region was really important for the species protection in that area.

Born in a rural Chinese family, Angela is a young local woman who is successfully raising awareness of conservation protection laws amongst local people, whilst also developing alternative income options that do not harm the environment.

The campaign included posters, school songs, visits, costumes and was directed to children, local households, loggers, eduction authorities and business owners. At the end of the campaign, the locals were more aware of ecotourism, natural reserves and alternative sources of energy. “When respondents were asked to name an animal they considered a priority for protection, 86 percent, up from 57 percent, named the Yunnan golden monkey.”, (Forestry Industry, 2011).

This change of fate could not happen to the African golden monkey. The conflicts between the locals and the monkeys are linked to the eating habits of both parties, so it was hard to change the minds. “Despite ongoing conservation efforts, local communities still rely on forest resources […], in addition, Golden Monkeys feed on people’s crops […], as a result golden monkeys are killed”, said D. Tuyisingize during National Geographic Explorer festival in 2018.

Either way, as Angela Cun’s example was a bottom-up approach of the situation., and a success story.“Cun is now working for The Nature Conservancy’s China program and has become a leading voice for community-based conservation in the region. She is also helping Rare launch a university-based Pride training program in China (adding to centers in Mexico, Indonesia, and the UK) to meet the growing demand for local environmental leadership and capacity in her country.”, (Forestry Industry, 2011). A top-down ones involving national protections programs will be presented in the next paragraphs.


Other national programs (From Xinhua News Agency’s reportages)

  1. Establishment of the Golden Monkey Research Base (Xinhua News, 2012)

Approved by the State Forestry Administration, the center is set up in ShenNongjia Nature Reserve in central China’s Hubei (湖北) province, said Qian Yuankun, Communist Party chief of the ShenNongjia Forestry District that administers the reserve, during his interview by Xinhua News in 2012.

Located in the northwestern mountains in Hubei province, the ShenNongjia reserve is rich with natural forest resources and animal species. Dubbed “Noah’s Arc” for plants from the glacial period, the ShenNongjia area is often referred to as a “home of living plant fossils.”, (Xinhua News, 2012)

The center is the country’s second wild animal research and protection base after the Wolong Giant Panda Protection and Research Center in southwestern Sichuan province. Even through golden monkey are not as well known outside China as pandas, they are indeed a national treasure, and the fact that they have the second wild animal research and protection base proves that.

China’s science authorities have already approved a program of 30 million yuan (4.76 million U.S. dollars) on the research and protection of golden monkeys in Shennongjia (Xinhua News, 2012).


  1. Golden Monkey Monkey Environmental Protection Network

Xinhua News Agency, Kunming, July 15/2019 (Reporter Zhao Yiran) :

The Golden Monkey Monkey Environmental Protection Network was established in Shangri-La(香格里拉), Yunnan Province. The institution was established by the Yunnan Forestry and Grassland Bureau in conjunction with a number of non-profit organizations, scientific research and private institutions to carry out related work to protect the primate.

The Golden Monkey Environment Protection Network is the first attempt by Yunnan province to establish a multi-participation joint protection mechanism, and build a cooperation platform of “protection priority, sustainable use, public participation, and resource sharing”, focusing on improving monkey group patrol management, population monitoring, and habitat. Work on land conservation and restoration, biology conservation and ecological behavior research, friendly community development and co-construction, and public awareness.(新华报, 2019)

Yunnan Province has successively established four protected sites including (白马雪山)Baima Snow Mountain, (玉龙天池)Yunlong Tianchi, (兰坪云岭)Lanping Yunling and (丽江老君山)Lijiang Laojun Mountain to protect the golden monkey and its habitat, with a total area of ​​478,000 hectares, covering the population of the golden monkeys.

While it is good to rejoice about the creation of theses natural reserves, and protected areas, it is important to keep in mind that animals ecosystems are evolving. Climate change change is an important treat that can cause species habitat loss. And natural reserves might be impacted as well.


The climate change danger

As the Golden monkeys are sensitive to heat, climate change also puts a great threat to its survival. Usually, the golden monkeys move uphill or downhill depending on the season, also the altitude impact the œstrus of female monkeys as explained in previous paragraphs. But with climate change, the habitat of the monkeys might change as far as not being suited for them anymore.

Usually, resilience or vulnerability to climate change is conditioned by the species ability to minimize or adapt to its effect. Adaptation might be done through evolution or dispersion to other suitable habitats. A recent analysis published in the American journal of primatology, studied the case of the Sichuan golden monkeys’ possible habitat evolution due to the climate change (Li, 2018). The various contribution of model variables ranged from the highest to the lowest were: mean diurnal range (24.1%), density of rivers (23.4%), precipitation seasonality (20%), density of roads (15.9%), annual precipitation (8.7%), minimum temperature of coldest month (4.4%), density of settlements (3.1%), and elevation (0.3%), (Li, 2018) . The results are as follows:

Figure 5: Predicted suitable habitat of Sichuan golden monkey under current and the 2050s’ climate scenarios in (秦岭)Qinling Mountains (Li, 2018).
Figure 5: Predicted suitable habitat of Sichuan golden monkey under current and the 2050s’ climate scenarios in (秦岭)Qinling Mountains (Li, 2018).


Suitable habitat for Sichuan Golden monkeys will decrease and shift to the east. Some natural reserves are going to be lost and will stop providing shelter to the current species settled there.

In the light of the different protection policies discussed in previous paragraphs it was possible to have a glimpse the Chinese efforts to save the golden monkeys.

Firstly, the actions aim to protect the animal’s habitat at different levels. At a local level through population education, at a provincial level following the example of Guangdong province, and also a national level with the supervision of the Chinese forestry national bureau, many protection and afforestation programs are developed.

Secondly by obtaining the necessary fundings and creating organizations dedicated to the animal study and protection.  By monitoring the life of the monkeys in the reserve, scientist could ensure that their living conditions are good enough for them to multiply inside and outside reserves.

While those programs and strategies might not cover all the efforts displayed by the Chinese government to protect the Golden Monkeys, it is clear that the primate isn’t as well treated as giant pandas. While the later is alway displayed as the national mascot in national and international events such as Olympic Games, golden monkeys are even a mystery to some Chinese citizen.

Symbolization and international recognition should help in obtaining fundings for local actions. But looking at the case of Angela Cun, who’s contribution to the preservation of the monkey was discussed in previous paragraphs, it is not possible to reach a conclusions. As a rural Chinese woman fighting to raise awareness around herself she chose to work for Nature Conservancy programs in China instead of local institutions.

There could be many reasons behind that choice, and joined efforts from both national and international institutions are indeed needed. Moreover it is said that the number of golden monkeys is going up. But with climate change comes another threat, and other ways of preservation should be observed.



Sources :

(CIRAD, 2019)
CIRAD Agricultural research for development, The sixth mass extinction calls for stronger global governance of biodiversity and an economic paradigm shift,10/05/2019 – Press release

(新华报, 2019)
Xinhua Daily newspaper, China has established a global protection network for the unique endangered species,(新华报), 07/2019, translated from Chinese.

(Regan, 2018)
New England Primate Conservancy, Golden snub-nosed monkey, Christine Regan Davi, Mai 2018

(Tuyisingize, 2018)
Geographic Explorer Festival 2018, speech by Conservation biologist and field ecologist Deogratias Tuyisingize,

(Li, 2018)
The 80th volume of the American Journal of primatology, Identifying potential refugia and corridors under climate change: A case study of endangered Sichuan golden monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana) in Qinling Mountains, China, by Jia Li, Diqiang Li, Yadong Xue, Bo Wu, Xiaojia He and Fang Liu,  October 2018

(Wang, 2017)
Sustainability, The Spatiotemporal Variation of Tree Cover in the Loess Plateau of China after the ‘Grain for Green’ Project, Yuhang Wang, Muyi Kang, Mingfei Zhao, Kaixiong Xing,  Guoyi Wang, and Feng Xue, Mai 2017

(Dayne, 2017)
Forest News, “Grain for green”: How China is swapping farmland for forest, Suzanna Dayne, November 28/2017

(The Eco Experts, 2017)
Pop Sugar, These 10 Beautiful Animals Are in Serious Danger of Being Lost Forever in 2018, Lisa Peterson, December 20/2017, Image by the Eco Experts

(China Daily, 2016)
China Daily, About Guangdong , September 21/2016

(Huaju, 2016)
Xinhua Daily newspaper, 4 golden monkeys born in April in China’s Hubei, Du Huaju 2016

(Whitley Funds, 2016)
Whitley Funds for Nature WFN website, Conservation Yunnan golden monkey through community education, China, 2016 associate award winner

(Xinhua News, 2012) wesbsite, Research center to protect Golden monkeys, Xinhua, March 5/2012

(Forestry Industries, 2011)
Forestry Industries, Save the Yunnan golden monkey through community outreach, 02/2011

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