KUNMING, Sept. 18 (Xinhua) -- A nature reserve for endangered black snub-nosed monkeys in southwestern China is facing a dilemma from surging numbers of visitors, a trend which is bringing welcome profile to the inhabitants but also threats to the elusive creatures.
The Baima Snow Mountain National Nature Reserve, home to around 1,200 black snub-nosed monkeys, or rhinopithecus bieti, in Weixi County of Yunnan Province, has seen a tourism boom in recent years.
"We used to have only two to three visitors a day," Zhongtai Tsering, head of the reserve, told Xinhua. "But now we have more than 30 on a daily basis."
Tourists from both China and abroad are coming to observe the white-faced and red-lipped animals, of which there are thought to be less than 2,500 still alive. They are dubbed one of the country's national treasures alongside the Giant Panda.
Zhongtai Tsering is glad to see the increasing number of tourists, saying, "The booming tourism has helped to ensure more people know about the rare monkeys, which will be helpful to our protection work."
However, the zoologist also voiced his concern over visitors' impact on the monkeys, who are now less afraid of the two-footed intruders.
"We have been following and observing a group of 90 black snub-nosed monkeys, feeding them regularly and giving tourists access to their habitat," he said. "Obviously, the group is under greater risk of contagion from human diseases, including catching a cold or suffering from diarrhea."
"But personally I believe it is still worthwhile to prompt the protection of the whole species by exposing a small number of them to tourists," he added.
Field researchers at the reserve told how they are also afraid that close contact with humans may change the monkeys' behavior and endanger their habitat.
Zhu Pingfen, a graduate student with the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is conducting field research at the site."Some tourists smoke while observing them and others take pictures with their camera flash on," she said. "You can easily see the conflicts between human and monkeys here."
But Zhu also acknowledged that, without the development of tourism, fewer people will know about the endangered species in the remote area.
She added she is hoping tourism will bring in sufficient funding to relocate human residents of the nature reserve.
Over 20,000 people live in the 220,000-hectare area, further complicating efforts to protect the monkeys.
"The dwellers cut down the trees for firewood or for wood panels to build their roofs," according to Yu Jianhua, an inspector for the reserve.
"Dwellers and monkeys are fighting for the forest," said Yu, who has worked at the site for 20 years.
Zhongtai Tsering said it is currently financially impossible to relocate the residents, although "maybe when more people know about the rare monkeys, there will be means to address the problem."
Although visitors to the reserve generally want good access to get up close and view their quarry, many are aware of the potential danger to the animals.
Roz Mauro, an American tourist, said she would be glad to see more trails built in the reserve so that the black-and-white creatures would be more accessible.
"That would be better for tourists," she said. "But it would not be better for the monkeys."
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