Saving The Langurs of Ha Long Bay

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There are many beautiful bays in the world.  However, if one is searching for the most picturesque and most breathtaking bay of them all, Ha Long Bay, off the north coast of Vietnam, would be a good place to start.  Its 60 square miles are home to 1,960 limestone islets of various shapes and sizes.   In Vietnamese, Ha Long translates to "descending dragon" in honor of the creation legend surrounding this bay.  Once you experience the beauty of this place you will understand why the original dragon decided to stay here rather than visit other parts of the globe.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.JPG
Above, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. 
Seacology has supported several related projects to help save one of the world's most endangered primates, the Cat Ba Langur.  This  relative of the monkey is found only on Cat Ba Island in Ha Long Bay.  In the 1960s, there were thousands of these beautiful creatures living on Cat Ba.  However, they began being poached for monkey bone paste for the Chinese "medicinal" market.  The hunting was so effective that 10 years ago the population was down to a mere 50. The Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Population discovered that the langur poachers were making about $60 per month.  They asked Seacology to support a langur guardian program whereby they would pay the poachers $70 a month to guard the langurs from poaching.  Seacology's response was an emphatic yes.  The project was so successful that Seacology made a second grant to enable the Zoological Society to purchase a much needed boat for the langur rangers and communication equipment so they could quickly be in touch when poachers were spotted.  More recently the Zoological Society asked Seacology for funding to relocate three isolated female langurs who were trapped on an offshore island to the main island of Cat Ba so they could breed with male langurs.
Along with a delegation of Seacology supporters I recently visited Ha Long Bay to see how these projects were faring. We first flew to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, which is currently celebrating its 1,000th anniversary.  After a three and a half hour ride from Hanoi we arrived in Ha Long Bay where we boarded our home for the next 3 days, the Red Dragon, a modern version of the traditional Chinese junk type of boat that used to ply these waters.  Waiting for us in Ha Long was Daniela Schrudde, the German-born coordinator of the langur conservation project.
Daniela is the very definition of a renaissance person.  She is a trained nurse, a practicing veterinarian, a phd candidate and an accomplished and multilingual conservationist. It was obvious to the entire Seacology delegation that the langur conservation project is in very good hands.  

At right, the Red Dragon boat where we stayed. 
Red Dragon boat, our home on Ha Long Bay.JPG
The boat sailed into the bay and it was immediately clear why Ha Long was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.  The limestone karst formations are not only beautiful but unique in the waters of the world.  In any direction you looked you were greeted by a jaw dropping sight.

Daniela told us that the various Seacology funded projects are continuing to go well.  There are now approximately 65 langurs in the wild.  The 15 langur increase since the project began may not sound like much but it represents a 30% increase in the population.  A key element of the project is not merely protecting the langurs from poaching but active education for the local population so that both parents and kids will know that the Cat Ba langur is a world treasure that is definitely worth saving.  In the course of just a few years local pride in the Cat Ba langur which at one time seemed non existent is now omnipresent.  Daniela and her local staff are very careful to consult local villagers and government officials at every step which has led to a sense of ownership amongst the local populace.  In a recent evaluation done by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums the Cat Ba langur conservation program received one of the highest scores of any of the 163 projects evaluated.

We visited one of the local park rangers, Mr. Thiet, who lives on a floating ranger station in the Gia Cung area of Ha Long.  His home for 24 days each month is a floating house with a very small deck in front.  His dedication and pride in his job was remarkable.  We also visited Mr. Tang, a retired postman, who now is a langur guard on a remote beach on Cat Ba island.  Even in this most beautiful part of the world most of us would find it difficult to live such an isolated life with nothing more than a makeshift shack to call home.  Mr. Tang offered us all some tea and though our party of 11 was the first outside delegation to ever visit, seemed comfortable talking about the importance of the Cat Ba langur.  When I complimented him on his incredible dedication he tried to maintain his composure but was forced to brush away a tear.

Below, Mr. Thiet with the Seacology group.
Langur ranger Mr. Thiet on his floating ranger station with Seacology group.JPGDaniela also filled us in on the progress of the project to relocate the three isolated female langurs.  This is a very delicate operation because the topography of Cat Ba is very steep and if the females are tranquilized in the wrong spot they could fall to their deaths.  Fortunately amongst her many other qualifications, Daniela is certified in the administration of blow dart tranquilizers.  This will take place in a specific cave which the females frequent.  The whole operation has been carefully planned and from start to finish should not take more than a handful of hours.This is the first wildlife relocation that the Vietnamese government has authorized in many years so there is a lot riding on the success of this project.

At the conclusion of our trip the crew of the Red Dragon surprised us with a dinner in a huge cave replete with stalactites and stalagmites.  It was probably the most unusual dinner setting that any member of our group had experienced.

cat_ba_langur.jpgWe came away from the trip not only in awe of the beauty of Ha Long Bay but in awe of the skill and dedication of Daniela Schrudde and her wonderful team of rangers and guardians.  Seacology is pleased to be doing its part to help save the Cat Ba langur but it is really the work of these incredible individuals that may keep this beautiful primate around for future generations.

If you are thinking of visiting Vietnam I recommend the services of Hanoi based Footprint Travel.  By all means visit Ha Long Bay aboard the Red Dragon junk.

Right, the Cat Ba langur that Seacology is helping to protect. Photo credit: Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations (ZGAP).

All other photos by Ramona Wilson. 

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This page contains a single entry by Duane Silverstein published on November 19, 2010 1:29 PM.

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