The return of the Yangtze river monkeys

Jul. 05, 2018 17:33:00

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Dai Guangqun places corns for wild macaques at the "Small Three Gorges" scenic area in Wushan County, southwest China's Chongqing, on May 26, 2018. Photo by Wang Quanchao

By Cheng Lu, Zhou Wenchong

Every Tuesday morning, a small boat docks at four sites along the Daning River, a tributary of the Yangtze, and Dai Guangqun (代光群) begins to scatter 500 kg of corn.

He whistles, one long blast and two short, to signal to his guests that their weekly banquet is ready. The wild macaques soon arrive in their thousands.

The state-protected monkeys have long lived on the banks of the upper Yangtze River, as described in a poem by the famed poet Li Bai (701-762). "With monkeys at riverbanks chattering ceaselessly and loud, my boat has left ranges of mountains far behind."

However, increased human activity and felling of trees had made the primates a rare sight until recently. In the mid-1990s, there were fewer than 100 wild macaques at the Longmen, Bawu and Dicui gorges in Chongqing's Wushan County, collectively known as the Little Three Gorges.

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Dai Guangqun places corns for wild macaques at the "Small Three Gorges" scenic area in Wushan County, southwest China's Chongqing, on May 26, 2018. Photo by Wang Quanchao

Dai provides the regular food for the monkeys, while collecting garbage from local scenic spots. Growing up along the Yangtze, like so many locals, he once cut down trees to plant crops, burning the wood for heating and cooking.

However as the public gradually became more aware of the environmental damage caused, the Chongqing municipal government made moves to protect the wildlife and expand vegetation in the region.

Many villagers in the mountains were relocated to reduce their impact on wild macaque habitats, local ports were closed, and the public were banned from cutting down trees.

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Wild macaques spot at the "Small Three Gorges" scenic area in Wushan County, southwest China's Chongqing, on May 26, 2018. Photos by Wang Quanchao

The hard work has paid off. Tao Jubinn (陶举斌), an official with Wushan County's tourism bureau, says that the population of wild macaques now surpasses 3,000 in the Little Three Gorges.

However, the rise of the monkeys created a new set of problems.

There is not enough wild fruit on the mountains, so the rare monkeys often troop downhill and steal maize from nearby cornfields.

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Wild macaques spot at the "Small Three Gorges" scenic area in Wushan County, southwest China's Chongqing, on May 26, 2018. Photos by Wang Quanchao

To help monkey and man get along, Wushan County government spends around 1 million yuan (about 150,000 U.S. dollars) on food for the macaques each year, which has led to a distinct decline in the cheeky theft of the villager's maize.

Xu Zhiqing (胥执青), a researcher with Chongqing Natural History Museum, says that in the past, people occupied too much of the monkey's habitat. The food supply acts as a kind of reparations, and such moderate intervention a plausible way to protect wildlife.

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Wild macaques spot at the "Small Three Gorges" scenic area in Wushan County, southwest China's Chongqing, on May 26, 2018. Photos by Wang Quanchao

The government also offers a coal subsidy for over 100 households to ensure they do not fell trees, and a scenic spot was set up in 2007 to bring in extra money for the villagers.

In nearby Jing'an Village, residents have opened more than 30 family inns, with each one earning 50,000 yuan to 60,000 yuan a year.

But tourism is developed carefully so as not to disturb the wild macaques. In 2010, a glass skywalk on a cliff was built to offer a better view for tourists to watch the macaques, but the monkeys welcomed the visitors by throwing rocks at them, and the skywalk was soon shut down. Now tourists are only allowed to see the primates from boats on the river.

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Wild macaques eat corns at the "Small Three Gorges" scenic area in Wushan County, southwest China's Chongqing, on May 26, 2018. Photo by Wang Quanchao

Carrying the empty bags on his shoulders, Dai returns to his boat and watches the animals as they wolf down the corn, a much favored food.

He has now become good friends with the macaques. While they would once flee to the forests on hearing a human voice, when they hear Dai's whistle they appear instantly, some even going so far as to imitate his sound.

"There are eight monkey kings in the area, and I know all of them," Dai says proudly. "I hope both the wild macaques and humans can have a better life in the future." (CHONGQING 2018-07-04 22:50:42)

Editor: Miao Hong

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