Vietnam is famous for several reasons: it was a notorious theatre of war during an unspeakably horrific but generation-defining conflict; it has become an extremely popular ‘new’ tourism destination; and it boasts a world-conquering, some would say unparalleled, cuisine. What Vietnam is not famous for – outside the conservation community, at least – is its wildlife. And yet the country is one of the most biologically rich on the planet, harbouring 10% of all the world’s known species – despite covering just 1% of the land area.
Vietnam has not only an incredible variety of wildlife, but also a vast array of so-called endemic species – those that are found nowhere else on the planet, in other words. Nowhere is this diversity and endemism more apparent than among the country’s primates. Unbeknownst to almost everyone, Vietnam has a staggering 25 primate species. Five of these are endemic and all the rest – bar the lorises and macaque – occur only in Indochina. And even those species also found in Cambodia, Laos or China tend to be confined to areas close to the Vietnam border.
Sadly, the survival chances of these wonderful animals are diminishing by the day. What people also don’t know about these primates is that eight of them – all langurs (leaf-eating monkeys) and gibbons (small apes) – are listed as critically endangered, the highest level of threat category on the IUCN Red List. Many other species are officially endangered. In other words, we are perilously close to an unprecedented event in the history of the world – a human-induced mass extinction of primates.
We still have a critical window of opportunity in which to prevent such a calamity, but that window is closing fast. Vietnam is changing: from the emerging green movement of the youth, to pioneering government legislation and commitments, we see change wherever we look. But unless there is a concerted effort, right here, right now, we will start to see primates disappear forever.
A crucial part of FFI’s multifaceted approach to primate conservation is raising awareness. Government bureaucrats, donor agencies, local companies and the general population alike will not be able to prioritise – let alone protect – primates, if they are not even aware of their existence. With this in mind, FFI has partnered with internationally acclaimed film-maker Ryan Deboodt to produce a series of stunning short films showcasing the threatened primates that form the spectacular centrepiece of Vietnam’s unique and irreplaceable natural heritage.