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On a small island in Cat Tien National Park, a group of conservationists has big

plans to counter the trade in endangered primates through rehabilitation, research

and education. By Tom DiChristopher.

It is a big day at the Dao Tien tional Park is where Binh will two black- shanked doucs. The their parents and siblings are
Endangered Primate Species take her first step towards that trade in all three primates is ille- useless to pet traders. When a
Centre. Two visiting veterinar- goal. Established in 2008, Dao gal in Vietnam, but black market gibbon reaches 7 or 8 years of
ians are preparing to conduct Tien is the first project of the channels continue to circumvent age, it will begin to bite and
health checks and DNA tests Endangered Asian Species Trust overtaxed authorities and feed attack its owner as part of its
on the preserve’s newest (EAST), a charity established by the demand for primate pets. natural play. When this hap-
residents, Hoa and Binh, a pair the Monkey World Ape Rescue “It’s not hard to get a pet gib- pens, they’re often abandoned
of golden-cheeked gibbons— Centre in Dorset, England, the bon if you ask the right people,” or killed.
and sisters—who have been in sanctuary featured for more says Kenyon. “Even if you “To keep a social primate on
quarantine since their arrival. than a decade in the documen- know nothing, you could soon its own is just cruel,” says Ke-
Afterwards, the vets will fit four tary series Monkey Business and ask a pet shop or find the right nyon. “They don’t domesticate.
pygmy lorises with radio collars Monkey Life. The mission of place, and if you wave enough They’ll never be a pet.”
in preparation for their release Dao Tien gets that message
into the wild. And some time in out by working with local
the middle of it all, Dao Tien’s
“To keep a social primate on its own is international schools to educate
first Vietnamese research intern just cruel. They don’t domesticate. They’ll children of affluent families,
will arrive. never be a pet” – Marina Kenyon some of whom may own pet
The excitement, however, has primates. The goal is to sensitize
made Binh uneasy. them to the animals, and it
Unlike her sister, Binh is EAST is to abate the wildlife money around—about five, six seems to be working; a recent
refusing to cooperate. As she trade in Asia through rescue, hundred dollars—you’ll have a colouring activity turned up
becomes more agitated, the rehabilitation, research and pet gibbon in a week.” pictures of gibbons outfitted
expression on primate special- education. The figurative price of secur- with defensive claws, stones to
ist Lee Butler’s face begins to It is a natural extension of the ing a gibbon is far higher. To throw at hunters and pouches to
sour. It’s becoming clear to him work that has been carried out capture a baby gibbon, hunters protect their young.
that Binh will not go quietly. He since 1987 at Monkey World, shoot its parents and adolescent
will have to enter the enclosure where hundreds of primates siblings. The slaughtered gib- Healing Wounds
with head keeper Nguyen from Europe and Asia have bons can then be sold as bush- It would be a mistake, however,
Trung Thanh, capture Binh with found refuge. Whereas Monkey meat or for use in traditional to view the demand end of the
a net and then administer the World provides a permanent medicine. The orphaned babies pet trade as symptomatic of
sedative. home for rescued primates, find their way to tourist centres regional culture. Many of the
Everyone is feeling sorry Dao Tien seeks to re-establish or into the hands of affluent primates at Monkey World have
for Binh, but Dao Tien director wild populations and conduct individuals. (The exchange of been confiscated from European
Marina Kenyon, PhD sees the conservation studies that protect exotic pets remains part of the owners, and the United States
bright side. “That standoffish- them against future threats. lavish gift-giving culture among registers as the second most
ness will make her great in the the rich despite its illegality.) profitable market for wildlife
forest one day,” she says. Plight of the Primates Sadly, pet gibbons essentially products after China. The Dao
This small island just beyond Currently, Dao Tien is home to have a shelf life of less than a Tien team has seen evidence
the entrance to Cat Tien Na- 27 gibbons, eight lorises and decade for the same reason that that this is not just an Asian

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Photo provided by Dao Tien Endangered Primate Species Centre

problem, as well. with their own it goes to the might actually increase stress Dao Tien’s research has
One of the gibbons currently background, but it’s always and potentially make it more already turned up unexpected
being prepped for release, Lucy, there.” difficult to find a mate. results. After releasing two lor-
was rescued from an expatriate Butler says the problem is “If you’re a pair released ises in the wet season, the staff
American couple, who Kenyon that owners don’t realize the … you’re no use to anyone were surprised to find they had
describes as “bright, intelligent damage they’re doing. “Basi- because you’re your own unit,” dashed all over the island, ven-
business people.” However, cally, what we’re trying to do is explains Kenyon. “But if you’re turing as far as 800 metres from
Lucy’s condition suggested give back what they’ve taken a female released, all the males their sleep sites. Little is known
that her owners had done little away,” he says. are going to quite like you. If about the wild pygmy loris, so
to educate themselves on her you’re a male released, all the information like this stands to
needs. When she arrived at Dao Two Heads Better Than One? females gibbons are receptive to shed light on these nocturnal
Tien, she was half the size a gib- While rehabilitation is a critical transient males.” primates.
bon her age should be. step, Dao Tien is not meant to be To test her theory, Kenyon “The process here is slow,
“They fed her only banana. a long-term home. The ultimate plans to release three pairs, but at the end of it, we can have
They gave her no water,” says hope for every primate is release three single females and three guidelines about how to release
Kenyon. “They said, ‘If she into the wild. Conventional single males. Whether or not it each animal,” says Kenyon.
wants to go get some water, she wisdom says gibbons that are checks out—Kenyon admits it With the wildlife trade still
can go to the toilet.’” rehabilitated together should be may not—the experiment will thriving, and given primates’
More difficult to remedy than released together, but Kenyon yield a worthwhile result. Dao relatively long maturation pe-
physical ailments is the mental believes there’s little scientific Tien researchers will use infor- riod, it’s clear why boosting the
toll isolation takes on primates. basis to back existing release mation gathered while tracking survival rates of wild releases
Deprived of mental stimulation guidelines and plans to test the gibbons to write procedures is a priority. Armed with sound
and interaction with their kind, prevailing assumptions. for release in Vietnam. Often, release procedures, Vietnam’s
gibbons often develop what Lee Kenyon’s theory is that a animals are released without Forest Protection Department
Butler calls “stereotypic behav- single gibbon released at the being screened for diseases and other organizations can give
iour,” such as wrapping their age it would normally leave its or DNA-tested to determine primates a fighting chance.
legs around their necks. family could potentially thrive whether they are native. The
“Boredom brings it on and it better in the wild. The challenge hope is that smarter releases For more information about EAST
becomes a habit,” says Butler. of following a mate through will translate into higher sur- or to schedule a visit or make a
“Generally, when you get them unfamiliar territory, she says, vival rates. donation, visit

asialife HCMC 43

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