Golden monkeys, a species under topstate protection, are hoping the "Year of the Monkey" on the Chinese lunar calendar, which begins on Jan. 22, will improve their chances of survival.
Living in the mountains of Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan Provinces, Chinese golden monkeys are seeing their habitats disappear rapidly as the countryside is cleared for more pastures, villages and roads.
In the past 40 years, the living area of the Yunnan golden monkeys had shrunk by a third but the pasture area created by fireand lumbering doubled, said primatologist Zhao Qikun, with the Kunming Institute of Zoology under Chinese Academy of Sciences.
More than 86 percent of monkey groups were separated by roads and villages, which blocked communication and resulted in in-breeding and species degeneration. Small groups in the forests have been wiped out.
"Those that are left are too few to carry on the species line. They are at the edge of extinction," Zhao said.
Chinese scientists confirmed the existence of Yunnan golden monkeys in 1962 and listed them on the top protection list in 1977.State-level nature reserves were set up later, but illegal huntingcontinued because the monkey's brain is considered a delicacy in some local cuisine.
Moreover, artificial breeding had many difficulties. In KunmingInstitute of Zoology, almost all the 10 monkeys born in the past decade were male, which scientists could not explain.
"In fact, the best place to protect them is not in laboratoriesor breeding centers, but their natural habitats," Zhao said.
Historical records revealed the golden monkeys used to live in the vast area south of the Yellow River, including the plains 1,000 meters above sea level.
However, modern scientific surveys show China has only 10,000 Sichuan golden monkeys, 1,200 in Yunnan and 800 in Guizhou after decades of state protection and public education.
Seen from satellite maps, the forests of the golden monkeys have been felled, creating many "isolated islands", which are believed by many experts to be the root cause of their rapid demise and partial annihilation in the past 400 years.
Chinese children are very familiar with the legend of a magicalmonkey called "Sunwukong", who helps the weak with kindness, and fights evil with justice. But the real monkeys are fighting mankind for their own survival. As the Year of the Monkey draws near, the Chinese are searching for better, safer ways to preservetheir mascot of good luck.