ARTS / CULTURE & LEISURE
One man’s 38-year career protecting wildlife in Yunnan Province’s lush valleys
Guarding the forest
Published: Nov 02, 2021 06:43 PM
Black snub-nosed monkeys Photo: Courtesy of He Xinming  
Top: Zhong Tai calls in to colleagues during a patrol in the wild. Photo: Courtesy of Baima Snow Mountain National Nature Reserve

Black snub-nosed monkeys Photo: Courtesy of He Xinming

Black snub-nosed monkeys Photo: Courtesy of He Xinming  
Top: Zhong Tai calls in to colleagues during a patrol in the wild. Photo: Courtesy of Baima Snow Mountain National Nature Reserve

 Zhong Tai calls in to colleagues during a patrol in the wild. Photo: Courtesy of Baima Snow Mountain National Nature Reserve

The black snub-nosed monkey, known as the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey, lives in a narrow corridor stretching from Mangkang county in Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region to Yunlong county, Southwest China's Yunnan Province. It has a distinctive upturned nose, a pair of big eyes, black fur and pink lips. On China's list of national first-level protected wild animals, it is hard to spot it given that its habitat is composed of lush valleys at a height of 3,000 meters above sea level.

Zhong Tai, who just retired from his position as deputy director of the Management and Protection Bureau of the Baima Snow Mountain National Nature Reserve in Yunnan, is one of people who know this medium-sized primate species the best. Zhong came to the area when he was just 17, kicking off a 38-year career working with wildlife.

"He is not an office person. He would head into the mountains whenever he could," Long Xinhua, chief of the Resource Protection Section at the bureau, told People's Daily when talking about Zhong, who, along with other fellow researchers, traveled extensively through the 20,000 square kilometers of forest in northwestern Yunnan, in part to keep track of the species' population numbers.

In 1983, the Baima Snow Mountain National Nature Reserve was established with a mission to protect the region's vast alpine coniferous forest, and of course the black snub-nosed monkeys who call the mountains their home. The 17-year-old Zhong had just graduated from middle school at the time.

At that time, it was rare to spot a black snub-nosed monkey. To determine the population count of the species, the reserve formed a 10-member team that would work with an expert team from the Kunming Institute of Zoology affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences to conduct field research.

Patrolling the complicated terrain was obviously not easy. One retired employee recalled that once he accidentally lost bags full of food, water and a tent, and as a result, "we suffered severe dehydration."

Survival in the wild was a necessary skill for members of the team, as they needed to trek in mountains more than 4,000 meters above sea level for up to 10 days at a time while carrying all the supplies and equipment they would need to survive. Considering the high altitude, something as simple as just breathing could be a challenge.

In 1985, 19-year-old Zhong spotted a wild black snub-nosed monkey for the first time in the area with the help of a local hunter. He continued to track it for five days and nights, and was able to compile a list of behaviors based on his observation. He later published a paper on the behaviors and habits of the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey.

In November 1991, the 25-year-old Zhong and the scholars carried out a three-year field study of the group at an observation camp established on a mountain at an altitude of 4,300 meters.

By 1996, the population was believed to number around 1,000 to 1,500. This has increased to over 3,300, based on the latest report released by the Yunnan Forestry and Grassland Bureau in 2021, with around 60 percent of the species living inside the reserve.

The monkey faced two key problems, said Mao Wei, deputy director of the Management and Protection Bureau. One was poaching and the other was the constant destruction of their habitat and damage to the environment around the Baima Snow Mountain.

There were over 70,000 villagers living in the region, who relied a great deal on local natural resources, especially wood for fire and construction.

"The village used to cut the wood to sell it. Even after the government banned forest logging, there were still villagers smuggling out logs on tractors to sell to nearby factories," a 53-year-old villager recalled. There was little arable land in the mountainous areas, and it was difficult to draw water to farmlands.

To solve the problem, Zhong helped them to apply for funds to build terraced fields and provide diverse irrigation so that the villagers could make a living by farming and no longer need to sell wood.

His 38-year career has made Zhong an expert on the black snub-nosed monkey, as well as a forestry engineer. He has published over 10 academic theses and finished his college degree at Southwest Forestry College in 2000.


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