Primates in Southeast Asia

Due to the region’s complex geological history, Southeast Asia is a hotspot for primate diversity. The CBC seeks to understand how such high levels of diversity evolved in the region, and how best to conserve primate species into the future, with a focus on Vietnam.


The CBC’s integrated research, conservation, and capacity building efforts in Mainland Southeast Asia incorporate a strong focus on primates. This collection of diverse species includes the doucs, snub-nosed monkeys, slow lorises, macaques, gibbons, and limestone langurs. Our work focuses in Vietnam, in the heart of the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot, an enormous and geographically complex area south of China recognized for its globally significant levels of biodiversity. Vietnam and neighboring Laos are home to the southern and eastern-most extensions of the Himalayas as well as a number of unique habitats, including isolated mountain ranges, complexes of limestone (karst) outcroppings, and enormous rivers systems (the Red and Mekong rivers) with their associated deltas. Thus, Vietnam is home to a wide range of habitats that can support a vast diversity of primate species. Unfortunately, most of these species are also threatened or endangered by some of the world's fastest rates of both human population growth and deforestation; Vietnam has the highest number of globally threatened primate species in Mainland Southeast Asia, and the second highest proportion of primate species that are threatened with extinction (out of all primate species in the country) in the world. Conservation management of these species depends in part on resolving uncertainties about how many species there are, where they are located, and how many individuals remain. With partners in Vietnam, the CBC integrates research, conservation, and capacity building to understand how such high levels of diversity evolved in the region, and how best to conserve primate species into the future.

CBC Approach

The CBC’s long-term research, conservation, and capacity development work in Vietnam started in 1997 and has resulted in new species discoveries, rediscovery of species thought to be extinct, and some of the first ecological research on rare and elusive species in remote areas. Together with our long time partners at the Centre for Natural Resources and the Environmental Studies in Vietnam (CRES) and the Vietnam Administration of Forestry (VNFOREST), we identified the need for key CBC expertise to help fill knowledge gaps about newly described and understudied primate species in Vietnam in order to target and improve conservation action.     

The Grey-shanked Douc (Pygathrix cinerea) is a leaf-eating monkey that is only found in Vietnam. It is one of the most threatened primates in the world, with a global population of less than 700 individuals. First described in 1997, it is the most recently discovered endemic primate in Vietnam. In 2005, the world’s largest population of Grey-shanked Doucs was discovered in central Vietnam, and recently, the CBC collaborated with the World Wildlife Fund and VNFOREST to conduct surveys of this crucial population to support the establishment of a proposed protected area and develop capacity for continued monitoring. 

Slow Loris Venom: Solving a Toxic Puzzle

In 2012, with our partners at CRES and VNFOREST we also identified a need to target slow lorises (genus Nycticebus) for conservation action in Vietnam. Slow lorises are among the least studied primates in Southeast Asia, in part because they are small and nocturnal, which makes them difficult to investigate in the wild. The CBC conducts multidisciplinary research to gather the essential basic data—e.g., the number of different species of loris, how to tell them apart, where these populations come from, and how many remain—that conservation managers will need to more effectively protect these species from further population decline.    

Main Accomplishments

  • In 2013, the CBC leveraged its preliminary work on slow loris conservation status and threats to launch a new interdisciplinary project funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation to combine biological, anthropological, and socioeconomic data to address knowledge gaps about the complexity of illicit slow loris trade networks. 
  • In partnership with WWF, the CBC produced maps of Grey-shanked Douc population extent and priority conservation areas in Que Phuoc Commune, Quang Nam Province and initiated and established the first monitoring systems for Grey-shanked Doucs in priority sites.
  • In 2014, the CBC held a Slow Loris Species Identification and Conservation Workshop in Hanoi, Vietnam in collaboration with VNFOREST for government officials, park rangers, environmental police, and conservation practitioners.
  • The CBC’s nocturnal survey methods developed for slow loris surveys have been adopted by Vietnam’s Department of Nature Conservation national-level training programs for protected area staff, building the capacity for long-term monitoring of slow loris and other nocturnal animal populations.


Centre for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies at Vietnam National University, Hanoi

Vietnam Administration of Forestry

Long Island University – Brooklyn

Bard Center for Environmental Policy

Dao Tien Endangered Primate Rescue Center

AMNH’s Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics