Guarding the forest: Zhong Tai resigns after 38-year career in lush Yunnan valleys

The black snub-nosed monkey, known as the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey, lives in a narrow corridor that stretches from Mangkang County in southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region to Yunlong County. , in southwest China. Photo: Courtesy of Peng Jiansheng

The black snub-nosed monkey, known as the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey, is a creature that lives in a narrow corridor stretching from Mangkang County in southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region to Yunlong County in southwest China. He has a distinctive upturned nose, a pair of large eyes, black fur, and pink lips. It is part of the national list of protected wild animals of the first level and it is difficult to spot given that its habitat consists of lush valleys at an altitude of 3000 meters.

Zhong Tai, who has just retired from his post as deputy director in the management and protection office of Baima Snow Mountain National Nature Reserve in Yunnan, is one of the most knowledgeable people of this primate species in Yunnan. average height. Zhong arrived in the area at the age of 17 and launched his 38-year career to work with wildlife.

“He’s never an office worker. He would go to the mountains when he could,” Long Xinhua, head of the resource protection section at the office, told People’s Daily of Zhong who, along with d other researchers, has traveled extensively. through the 20,000 square kilometers of forest in northwest Yunnan, in part to calculate the number of species.


The black snub-nosed monkey, known as the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey, lives in a narrow corridor that stretches from Mangkang County in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region to Yunlong County. , in southwest China.  Photo: Courtesy of He Xinming

The black snub-nosed monkey, known as the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey, lives in a narrow corridor that stretches from Mangkang County in southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region to Yunlong County. , in southwest China. Photo: Courtesy of He Xinming

Find the monkeys

In 1983, the Baima Snow Mountain National Nature Reserve was created with the mission of protecting its vast alpine coniferous forest, and of course the black snub-nosed monkeys that make mountains their primary habitat. Zhong was in middle school at the time.

At that time, black snub-nosed monkeys were too rare to be spotted for research or protection. To find out the number of species, the reserve formed a group of ten, along with a team of experts from the Kunming Institute of Zoology affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, to conduct field research.

Roaming the complicated terrain was obviously not easy, as a retired employee recalls for the report on one of his professional experiences. He accidentally lost bags full of food, water and a tent, and as a result, “we were suffering from a severe water shortage.”

Survival in the wild was a necessary skill for them, as they had to roam the mountains over 4000 meters for 10 days at a time with many survival items. Breathing also became difficult at high altitudes.

In 1985, 19-year-old Zhong first spotted a wild, snub-nosed monkey in the area with the help of a local hunter. He continued to follow it for five days and nights and was able to compile a list of the species’ lifestyle habits based on his observation. He then published an article on the behavior and habits of the Yunnan snub nosed monkeys.


The black snub-nosed monkey, known as the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey, lives in a narrow corridor that stretches from Mangkang County in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region to Yunlong County. , in southwest China.  Photo: Courtesy of He Xinming

The black snub-nosed monkey, known as the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey, lives in a narrow corridor that stretches from Mangkang County in southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region to Yunlong County. , in southwest China. Photo: Courtesy of He Xinming

Road to protection

In November 1991, 25-year-old Zhong and researchers conducted a three-year field study of the group at the observation camp established on a mountain at an altitude of 4,300 meters.

In 1996, the species was estimated to number around 1,000 to 1,500. This figure has risen to over 3,300, according to the latest report released by the Yunnan Forest and Grassland Bureau in 2021, with around 60% of the species. living inside the reserve.

The monkeys faced two key issues, said Mao Wei, deputy director of the management and protection bureau. One was poaching and the other was the constant destruction of habitat and environmental damage in the snow capped mountain of Baima by local villagers.

There were over 70,000 villagers, who relied heavily on local natural resources, especially wood for fire and construction.

“The village used to cut wood for sale. Even after the government banned logging, there were still villagers smuggling logs on tractors to sell to nearby factories, ”recalls a 53-year-old villager. There was little arable land in the mountainous areas, and it was difficult to supply water to agricultural land.

In order to solve the problem, Zhong helped apply for funds to build terraced fields and bypass irrigation, so that the villagers did not need to sell timber.

His 38-year career in research and protection made Zhong an expert on the black snub-nosed monkey, as well as a forestry engineer. He has published over 10 academic essays and graduated from Southwest Forestry College in 2000.

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