Dear Steemit friends :
In our exploration of the Qinling mountains of Shaanxi Province thus far, we have encountered some of the most endangered species in the world, pushed to the edge of extinction as a result of systematic destruction of the natural environments they have inhabited for thousands of years.
The Qinling mountains are said to possess unique habitats because of it's vast mountain ranges wrapping around swaths of land, shielding these plains and valleys from the usual extremities of weather. This in turn has allowed animals which rely on specific environmental conditions to thrive. Sadly, due to rapid deforestation and poaching, many of these animals have become vulnerable.
So far, we've seen the Giant Panda and Golden Takin re invigorated in numbers thanks to the work of the local conservation. Although the population of the Giant Panda and Golden Takin have increased ten fold from their lowest points, their species remain vulnerable and rely on successful breeding programs to introduce more of them into the wild.
Today, we are going to have a look at one of the rarest primates in the world, the Golden snub-nosed monkey.
Before seeing these Golden Monkey's, my only experience and contact with Monkey's have been at the Zoo, and at a fair distance between me and the monkey's. When I arrived, I still believed that I would be seeing them from a safe distance...until they all started jumping over the fence and climbing on the observation deck!
Before we get up close and personal, let's cover some of the basic facts about the Golden snub nosed monkey's.
The Golden Snub-nosed monkey's are one of three species of the snub-nosed monkeys and are the most widely known variant in China.
They are characterised by their light blue faces, and lush golden coats.
The golden snub-nosed monkey's will live in the mountains at elevations between 1500m and 3000m, whilst their diet is primarily pine-needles, bamboo buds, leaves and lichen.
The population is estimated to be 8000 - 15000 in the wild.
They can live up to 30 years and the females will give birth every 2 years.
They have multi-tier societies based on bands or groups of one-male-units.
As you can see from picture above, the Golden snub-nosed monkey's are quite social creatures, operating in distinct sub-groups or units. Even though the numerous groups may work together when foraging for food, the groups themselves are well defined and will generally keep to themselves.
In the Golden Monkey society, each sub-group will have one main breeding male, and then a harem of females and their infants. These 'one-male-units (OMUs)', are then often banded together to form bigger groups but interactions between them remain minimal.
I could barely see the groups of monkey's in the mountains. I had to use my zoom lens to make them out. Even more surprising was a man on the side of the mountains, seemingly feeding the monkey's. Usually, the different groups will have their own territory, any trespassing will result in physical confrontation.
What is most obvious, is the alpha male of the group. I like to call him the King Monkey because of his obvious size and dominance.
The King monkey although respected by the whole band, is often solitary and will sit alone for extended periods of time whilst the rest of his group stick together.
Whilst sitting down, the Monkey King will keep a watchful eye for threats, it goes without saying that he's also always on the watch out for any potential sources of food.
For some reason, the King Monkey seemed to take a liking to me. Of all the people on the observation deck, I was the only one he would seem to stare at. I was beginning to think he wanted me to join his harem!
This is one of the snub-nosed infants. As you can see, their blue face occupies a smaller surface area when they're young, and their long fur coats are much less developed at this stage of their lives.
One of the reasons for the decline in population of the Golden snub-nosed monkey's, is that their fire-orange fur was believed to ward off rheumatism if worn by humans, while their bones are believed to hold special medicinal powers. At the height of their decline, the majority of the population had to be forced into captivity in an effort to save them.
This picture depicts the relationship between the Monkey King and his subordinate within his own OMU. Because of his seniority over all the others, the Monkey King has first priority when it comes to food. Others will have to wait their turn, or let the Monkey King take the food right off their hands.
Until a young infant grows up large enough to challenge the monkey king, the hierarchy and pecking order will remain the same.
The ancient Chinese believed that the Golden monkey's were good examples of morality. Respecting the old, and nurturing the young. Truth be told however, senior monkey's such as the Monkey King would be marginalised if not violently attacked once they were too old to hold their position in society.
Relegated kings will often join All-Male-Units alongside other males who fell out of favour in their own OMUs.
As mentioned earlier, the primary diet of the Golden Monkey's are tree needles, bamboo buds, fruits, leaves and lichen. Although they are well felt by the keepers of the reserve, the Monkey's will quite happily leap over the fence onto the observation deck where all the visitors are if they are offered food.
The monkey's are very dexterous, having excellent control of their hands and fingers, allowing them to peel fruits, crack open nuts, and even steal food from you.
Meanwhile, they are seemingly unafraid of human beings and will quite happily come up close to you, sit by you, or even walk amongst you. I guess genetically we're not actually too different from them at all.
The barbed wire fence set up as a barrier between the monkey's and the human visitors failed miserably. The Golden Monkey's have little to no trouble at all climbing over the fence and even leaping over to the observation deck. Even the infant monkey's would join in.
The King Monkey would perch at a distance and keep a watchful eye for the safety of his group. More importantly, he's also looking for a good opportunity to snatch some food off his subordinates. Very often, the smaller monkey's will pick up some nuts or fruits from the visitors, only to have them taken away by the King Monkey.
Officially, the monkey's are fed three meals a day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food is carefully prepared to boost the monkey's nutrition, but it also serves as an opportunity to see large numbers of them congregate as they hustle and tussle for food.
Outside of feeding time, the Monkey's will eat their usual diet of pine needles, fruits, nuts and lichen. Very often, they will be enticed by food which the visitors bring to feed the monkey's. It is actually prohibited to feed the monkey's as it interferes with their carefully controlled diet, but in practice, the keepers are tame about it.
The monkey's begin leaping over directly from the fence, and as they do so, the crowds of people on the observation deck will shriek and gasp in surprise and even fear as the monkey's scavenge and pick the fruits and nuts straight off people's hands.
They can be quite civil about it, or they can be quite rude. In the latter case, they will even pick your pockets to steal whatever food they can find. In most cases, they will sit on the ledge and wait for you to offer them food, if you don't have food, the monkeys grow impatient and start feeling your pockets or snatching whatever they can from your hands. It is a wonderful opportunity to interact with them up close and personal!
The King Monkey was too preoccupied eating his fruit and nuts that I don't think he realised I was the person he was staring at from earlier. Still, he seemed really comfortable being patted on the head. The long fur on his back was thick and rough - no wonder it is able to protect him from deep snows in the winter.
One of the funniest moments was definitely when two of the Monkey's jumped over to the observation deck, then walked across it through a bunch of terrified people with a banana in hand, and his friend closely following behind.
Check out the video for more Golden Snub-nosed monkey antics!
And that concludes our visit to the Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey reserve in the Qinling Mountains. Seeing these Monkey's up close and personal and even interacting with them is an experience that really helps you to get to know these animals much quicker and at a much deeper level than just seeing them from far. The Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey's are a highly sought after animal for it's fur and bones, and sadly, that has made them a vulnerable species now under the lawful protection of the Chinese government.
Even though they might have limited use in Chinese medicine, and their fur coats might be extremely warm, it is no excuse to hunt them to the brink of extinction. The end of their species is not worth any amount of fur or special medicinal powers. I'm very glad to visit and see for myself the measures taken to protect these animals. Although their populations have consolidated, it remains a long and arduous task to bring them back to thriving status in their natural habitats. We can only hope that this may become a reality in the not so distant future.