The year of the golden monkey

A golden monkey hangs from the branches in the Laojun Mountains of Yunnan Province, China
© Long Yongcheng / 2008 The Nature Conservancy - A golden monkey hangs from the branches in the Laojun Mountains of Yunnan Province, China

There's more to the Chinese New Year than parades and fireworks.

By Kang Wei, Yunnan Program Director

You’re probably familiar with the Chinese New Year. After all, it’s one of the most popular New Year’s parties in the world, and Chinatown districts in cities across the United States host colorful celebrations every year. You may even know that this year’s presiding animal zodiac—the monkey—represents energy, a quick wit, and self-assurance. But this year, there’s more to the story—because the monkey also represents one of the most critically imperiled species in China.

That’s why the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, the US-China Cultural Institute, and the Cultural Associate of the Committee of 100 have joined together with The Nature Conservancy to celebrate the New York City Lunar New Year 2016 by calling attention to the plight of the Yunnan Golden Monkey and highlight ways to protect it for future generations.

Laojun Mountains in China's Yunnan Province© Scott Warren / Laojun Mountain Nature Reserve, Yunnan Province, China

Found in the remote forests of the Laojun Mountains, the golden (or snub-nosed) monkey is one of the most endangered monkeys in the world. Fewer than 3,000 remain in the wild in China. But there is hope: Thanks to the collective efforts of The Nature Conservancy and local communities in Yunnan Province over the last 20 years, the population of Golden Monkeys on Laojun Mountain has tripled from 100 to 300.

Golden monkeys make their homes at altitudes higher than any other primate except humans, and spend most of their lives in the trees. They’re so elusive that after scientists discovered the species in the 1890s, they were lost and thought to be extinct until 1962. Some 50 years later, scientists are only just beginning to understand this mysterious monkey's biology and behavior—and the keys to saving them.

A baby golden monkey in China's Yunnan Province© Long Yongcheng / 2008 The Nature Conservancy - A baby golden monkey in China's Yunnan Province

Habitat loss from cutting down trees (mostly for firewood) has made it difficult for golden monkeys to find the healthy patches of forests they need to survive. And illegal hunting has strained a species that is already struggling. It’s estimated that 100 monkeys are killed each year, poached for food and their striking fur. Experts say the best hope for saving these charming primates is to raise awareness.

Zhang Ziming was once a hunter and now works with The Nature Conservancy to track and research the golden monkey in the Laojun Mountains. © Ami Vitale / Zhang Ziming was once a hunter and now works with The Nature Conservancy to track and research the golden monkey in the Laojun Mountains.

The Nature Conservancy has worked in China since 1998 protecting land and water for indigenous species like the golden monkey through a variety of innovative strategies. As part of our work we have begun to make a positive impact on this year’s Lunar New Year mascot in a few ways: We’re helping to protect what remains of Yunnan’s forests by installing alternative energy stoves and solar panels so villagers have less of a need to cut down trees for firewood, and we are planting new trees across the country—3.2 million in the Yunnan province alone. We also work with local communities to educate villagers about the importance of the golden monkey.

So if you were not already planning on celebrating the Year of the Monkey this month, perhaps now you will. In New York City, the Lunar New Year celebration kick off on Feb. 6 with a Ceremony at the Fantastic Art China exhibit at Javits Center North, and additional events will take place at iconic venues across the City including Lincoln Center, the Empire State Building, and the New York Philharmonic. On Feb. 8, NYC schools will be closed so that students across the city can celebrate the Lunar New Year and learn more about the golden monkey. The Nature Conservancy will take part in the day’s festivities at Javits Center North.

However you choose to celebrate the Lunar New Year 2016, just remember: There’s more to the party than fireworks and a parade. Just ask the golden monkey.

Long Yongcheng / 2008 The Nature Conservancy - Mother and baby golden monkey© Long Yongcheng / 2008 The Nature Conservancy - Mother and baby golden monkey

Tags: China | Endangered Species | New York City

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