Vietnam's painted monkey

The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is one of the most endangered primates on the planet, found only in a few isolated forest fragments among the karst limestone peaks of northern Vietnam.

Its striking facial appearance – protuberant pink lips and upturned nose; powder-blue mask; and patches of pale-blue skin around its eyes – gives the distinct impression that this monkey has been applying heavy make-up without the aid of a mirror. Its body fur is mainly black, with creamy-white underparts and elbow patches. Other notable features include an orange throat patch and an extremely long, white-tipped tail.

The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey lives in extended family groups – comprising an adult male plus several females and their offspring – that often come together to sleep or feed, but sightings have become increasingly rare; its range has shrunk to just a handful of locations and numbers at most of these have been declining dramatically.

At a glance
Rhinopithecus avunculus
Critically Endangered
Vietnam

Family:

Cercopithecidae

Order:

Primates

Est. in the wild:

c.200

Tonkin snub-nosed monkey facts

  • The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey was first identified in 1912.
  • The species is officially one of the world’s 25 most endangered primates.
  • It is the rarest of the world’s five snub-nosed monkey species.
  • Over 80% of the entire global population is found in a single forest.
  • Leaves and fruit make up most of this monkey’s diet.

The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is found only in Vietnam.

c.200

Total number of Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys left in the wild.

Two

The number of viable Tonkin snub-nosed monkey populations remaining in the world.

Conservation story

The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey was thought to be extinct until a small population was rediscovered in the 1990s. The main threats to its survival – as with so many other Vietnamese primates – are habitat loss and hunting.

Widespread deforestation as a result of agricultural encroachment, firewood collection and other destructive activities have led to a drastic reduction in – and fragmentation of – this primate’s favoured habitat.

This monkey has also been ruthlessly hunted, not only for bushmeat, but also for its body parts, which are illegally traded to supply the demand for traditional medicine. The impoverished communities in the remote mountainous areas where it occurs are often not aware that these primates are protected by law.

How FFI is helping to save the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey

The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey has been at the centre of FFI’s primate conservation activities for most of this millennium.

By the time we discovered a globally important population of this monkey in 2002, it was already on the brink of extinction; a mere 50-60 individuals were confirmed to be present in the forest at Khau Ca where it was found. Five years later, FFI discovered a separate population of this monkey – subsequently confirmed as the second-largest – in a forest fragment near the border with China.

FFI has focused on engaging local communities in species monitoring and habitat protection at both these sites. In order to safeguard the largest surviving population, we worked with the Vietnamese authorities to ensure that the Khau Ca forest was given formal protection, since when numbers have stabilised and steadily increased.

Today, the population in Khau Ca comprises around 150 individuals, a threefold increase in the number of Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys in this location since their rediscovery.

The second-largest population is under severe pressure from hunting and habitat loss as a result of agricultural conversion, and its future is uncertain. Elsewhere in Vietnam, this monkey appears to have been virtually wiped out. The last few groups are thought to have been reduced to isolated individuals with little prospect of recovery.

The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is still officially listed among the world’s 25 most endangered primates. It is now receiving the international attention it deserves, but much work remains to be done to secure its long-term future.