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Jungle Beach provides a last resort for rare wild monkeys

2009-10-12 (GMT + 7)

From their treetop perches in the dusk, the black-shanked douc – a type of monkey – look down on two tourist resorts and a new road construction that has peeled the skin of the jungle away from the coast.

Development is putting the squeeze on these amazing animals at aptly named Jungle Beach, north of Nha Trang. The troop lives on the steep tree-covered slopes of the coastal mountain range, above Jungle Beach Resort, where the owner keeps a close eye on them.

Sylvio Lamarche, the American who runs the lodge for backpackers, has a telescope that he trains on the mountain every morning and evening. When the doucs appear he calls his guests.

Since they were discovered in 2005, the doucs, members of the langur family, have been the subject of a pilot study and several Vietnamese TV documentaries. It is not easy for them to hide as they have incredibly long tails that dangle from the tree foliage.

In fact the black-shanked doucs are often referred to as "tails" because that is the only part of them that is visible.

It’s a long walk to the top of the mountain where a BBC film crew received permission to build a hide in 2007 to get footage of this prized troop of 50 primates.

From the resort, it’s a steep climb up a narrow path, that I was allowed to use because I am a reporter. Sylvio recognises the need to protect the langurs and their environment so he does not allow resort guests to disturb them. He wants the area to be turned into a national park, but at the same time he hopes to sell his resort for US$10 million, a fact that might spell trouble for the langurs.

Swingers: The doucs living on the steep tree-covered slopes of the coastal mountain range above Jungle Beach Resort have been the subject of a pilot study and several Vietnamese TV documentaries. — VNS Photos Michael Smith
The craggy faced American, wearing a sarong and a constant covering of sweat, hasn’t been back to the States for 10 years. He says the doucs on the mountain have unique markings because they have been isolated on the peninsular from other populations. He says they need to be researched and has taken a Vietnamese PhD student, under his wing while he awaits permission to do a major study on the langurs.

The patient and gentle Nguyen Ai Tam has been staying around jungle beach as Sylvio’s guest for about nine months. The 28-year-old worked in Kon Tum and Gia Lai provinces researching grey-shanked doucs with one of Viet Nam’s leading biologists Ha Thang Long. Long is from the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre (EPRC) in Cuc Phuong National Park in Ninh Binh province, 140km south of Ha Noi.

The doucs have been listed as one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world. Studies on the recently discovered primate have been conducted by the Frankfurt Zoological Society, led by Tilo Nadler, manager of the Viet Nam Primate Conservation Programme and director of the EPRC.

Tam points at an eagle flying along the ridge. "Maybe the primates are there, as the eagles eat the young," he says.

He scans the ridge with his binoculars.

"We are unlucky today, they are not here and they normally would be because they slept here last night." He says they have probably gone over the other side of the ridge so he goes over and comes back with news that he was right – there were about five of them but they were so far away their tails were barely visible.

"That’s where the government rangers work. [They] live in the village to protect the forest on the coastal side." However, he says the poachers and charcoal makers always know when they are going on patrol, so nobody ever gets caught.

Further along the range, there is another troop of black-shanked doucs bringing the total estimated population on the range to 150. Tam says the monkey hunters are usually from other provinces.

"Their customers – I don’t know who they are – use the bones to make a thick liquid for medicine. It’s good for the bones but expensive."

The poachers set dozens of traps in the trees where the doucs live and on the ground where they cross between trees. With the new road, more poachers will come.

Source: VietNamNet/Viet Nam News

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