One of the highlights of our trip to Vietnam was a visit to meet primates — including some we had never heard of before (like langurs!).
Cuc Phuong National Park in Vietnam includes two excellent rescue centers: one for primates, and one for turtles (we’ll do our next post about the turtle center).
Cuc Phuong was the first national park established in Vietnam, in 1962. The Endangered Primate Rescue Center (EPRC) was established later, in 1993, by Vietnam and international conservation organizations, especially the Frankfurt Zoological Society (Germany).
Our last post was about illegal animal trade in Vietnam. Primates are sometimes sold as pets, used in traditional medicines, or even eaten in wildlife restaurants. When primates are rescued, they often come here. Staff members can travel as far as 1000 or 2000 km (about 600 -1200 miles) to bring animals here from central or south Vietnam. The center also employs 20 local Vietnamese people as animal keepers — providing an important source of income to the local community.
Keepers rehabilitate the animals, and also work on breeding and conservation programs. Their goal is to re-establish stable populations in captivity as a source for re-introduction in the wild. Most of Vietnam’s primate species are endangered, so having healthy populations in centers like this is important.
The EPRC is currently home to more than 150 primates that have been rescued or bred here. These species fall into 15 taxa (which are species and subspecies). Six of these species are kept only at the EPRC — they aren’t found in any other facility in the world. These six species are all langurs.
What’s a Langur?
We had never seen a langur — either in the wild, or in any zoo that we’ve visited in the U.S. They only eat leaves (their stomachs have multiple compartments, kind of like a cow). Over time, if they’re fed a diet of bananas, it will kill them. This can happen if well-meaning people keep them as pets, and don’t know how to take care of them properly.
Here at the center, keepers bring the langurs seven or eight different types of leaves, and they can find their favorites. This helps them develop self-feeding behavior so they can potentially be released.
Caring for Primates
The 22 keepers here do their best to meet the animals’ needs: shelter, food, water and the right social environment. For example, langurs are often housed together, so they can learn behavior from each other.
The enclosures here are simple: large, open cages, with bamboo poles and platforms for climbing. Not only is bamboo an inexpensive material (for a conservation center on a budget), but because it’s flexible, it’s healthy for the animals. Primates in zoos with rigid iron poles for jumping and climbing can develop joint problems over time.
We also learned that monkeys in Southeast Asia generally don’t have prehensile tails. That is, they don’t use their tails for gripping and swinging, like the spider monkeys we saw in Costa Rica.
… And What’s a Loris?
We came back late in the day to see the slow loris, which is nocturnal. These cute critters eat mostly fruits and insects. They are prosimians. Prosimians are a suborder of primates that includes lemurs, bush babies, tarsiers and lorises. Prosimians are nocturnal, have excellent night vision, and have a special grooming claw (also called a “toilet claw!”).
We learned that predators that hunt the loris can’t distinguish between orange and green — so although these little guys are orange, to a predator, they blend right in with the green leaves.
In winter, however, they have a white coat with a black stripe, and are larger after their summer feeding. They nearly double their weight from summer to winter — from 400 grams to 700 grams (from a bit more than 3/4 of a pound to about 1 1/2 pounds). People once thought they were two different species, because these animals look so different at different times of the year.
Threats and Re-Introductions
It is illegal to trade or keep monkeys as pets in Vietnam, but it still happens. The pet trade is really harmful to primates — not only can animals die from improper care, but others are often killed to get the cute baby. According to the EPRC, for one baby gibbon (another type of primate) that goes on the market, 20 others die — such as the mother, and babies who can’t survive without their mother’s care.
The center’s goal is to release primates into the wild whenever possible. They work to make sure these areas are safe from poaching, and work with organizations like the ENV (see our previous post on ENV!) to educate people about illegal animal poaching.
The EPRC has successfully re-introduced langurs and other primates in some areas in Vietnam. However, around Cuc Phuong, some local people have been hunting for generations. As a result, if animals are released into the forest here, they will be hunted. So re-introductions have been in other areas, where the animals should be better protected.
As a result of all the hunting, the forest at Cuc Phuong is very quiet — there don’t seem to be many wild animals left here. It feels very different to other rainforests we walked through in Peru and Costa Rica. But by maintaining stable populations of some of these primates here at the center, maybe the time will be right at some point to re-populate Cuc Phuong with primates again.
Study Guide Questions:
1. Why is it better to have bamboo poles rather than iron poles in primate enclosures?
2. What is a langur? What do langurs eat?
3. Why doesn’t the Endangered Primate Rescue Center release animals into Cuc Phuong National Park?
4. What does nocturnal mean? What do lorises have that make them good at being nocturnal?