Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation of Primates in Southeast Asia

Primates are our closest cousins in the animal world, and more than half of all primates are in danger of extinction.

The southern and most eastern parts of the Himalayas, Vietnam and neighboring Laos are characterized by a range of habitats that support a vast diversity of primate species. This includes isolated mountain ranges and the enormous Red and Mekong river systems with associated deltas. Unfortunately, most of these species are also threatened or endangered by some of the world's fastest rates of human population growth and deforestation. Conservation management of primates depends in part on gaining a better understanding of how many species there are, where they are located, and how many individuals remain. 

Primate Research and Conservation in Vietnam

Our work in the region focuses on Vietnam, in the heart of the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot (an enormous and geographically complex area recognized for its globally significant levels of biodiversity), and a collection of species including the doucs, snub-nosed monkeys, slow lorises, macaques, gibbons, and limestone langurs.

Together with our partners, we combine research, conservation, and capacity-building to understand how such high levels of diversity evolved in the region and how to conserve its primate species. Starting in 1997, our work 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.

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 the country. The world’s largest population of Grey-shanked Doucs was found in central Vietnam in 2005, and working together with the World Wildlife Fund and the Vietnam Administration of Forestry (VNFOREST) we conducted surveys of this crucial population to support the establishment of a proposed protected area and strengthen capacity for continued monitoring. 

Together with our partners at the Central Institute for Natural Resources and the Environmental Studies in Vietnam (CRES) and VNFOREST, we identified a need to target slow lorises (genus Nycticebus) for conservation action in Vietnam. Small and nocturnal, slow lorises are difficult to investigate in the wild and  therefore among the least studied primates in Southeast Asia. We conduct multidisciplinary research to gather essential data to help conservation managers effectively protect these species from further population decline, including the number of different species of loris, how to tell them apart, where these populations come from, and how many remain. 

The CBC's research on primates in Southeast Asia is led by CBC Director of Biodiversity Informatics Research, Dr. Mary Blair, and made possible through funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

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