Volunteers who befriend monkeys

The Yunnan snub-nosed monkey, or the black snub-nosed monkey, is an endangered species of primate in the Cercopithecidae family. It is widely found in south China’s Yunnan province where it is known to the locals as the Yunnan golden hair monkey.

Located in Tacheng Village of Weixi Lisu Autonomous County, Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Yunnan province, the Yunnan golden hair monkey national park is now home to more than 50 Yunnan golden hair monkeys, with another over 500 Yunnan golden hair monkeys inhabiting the mountain ranges around the park.

Yu Lizhong (left), a native of Tacheng Village of Weixi Lisu Autonomous County in south China’s Yunnan province, said he found his job as a “monkey protector” through a travel agency, and gets paid RMB1,300 each month (about $194.34). Photo: Sino-US.com

Yu Lizhong, born in 1972 and a native of Tacheng Village, is the leader of more than 20 “monkey protectors” taking care of the golden hair monkeys in the national park.

As too many monkeys may damage the forests, the current more than 50 monkeys have been picked for tourists to see, Yu told the reporter.

According to Yu, there are now nine monkey groups based on family unit in the forest, while those who do not have a spouse or baby, also known as “monkey bachelors”, form one family.

Besides taking care of the monkeys, they also help to prevent the forest fire in winter.

At around 3,000 meters above the sea level, the temperature in the national park is much lower than that on the plains. Yet, Yu has to work from 5 am to 8 pm every day, getting up even earlier than the monkeys.

“I think it’s my responsibility to protect them since they are in my hometown,” said Yu.

Besides, the over 20 “monkey protectors” taking care of the monkeys, some young volunteers are also working in the forest helping to taking care of the monkeys and doing other works.

As a volunteer in the Yunnan golden hair monkey national park, Zhu Yezhou said her main work includes educating the travelers about the forest and the monkeys, taking photos, making videos as well as writing blogs. Photo: WeChat

Zhu Yezhou, a 24-year-old girl, came to the national park a month ago through a volunteer organization named Green River which was founded in 1995 and aims to protect the head waters of the Yangtze River.

Before she came to the Yunnan golden hair monkey national park, she used to work with a Hong Kong volunteer organization to protect the head waters of the East River.

Majoring in Public Administration, Zhu said protecting the environment is part of public service, and it should not be other people’s job but one’s own responsibility to save the environment.

One year after graduating from a college in Guangdong province, Zhu said the most meaningful part of being a volunteer in the national park is working with the local “monkey protectors” some of whom have been servicing the monkeys for over 20 years.

In some local families in Tacheng Village, both the father and the son are “monkey protectors”, she said.

“It is not an easy thing to be a ‘monkey protector’. It is dangerous when it rains or snows, and sometimes the snow may be higher than knees. Every ‘monkey protector’ protects one monkey family, and they give each monkey a name, like Da Ge Zi (meaning big guy), or Dan Ba,” Zhu said.

In only a few weeks, Zhu can identify the monkeys by their families and know which one is hurt. Sometimes a monkey can come very close to her, but she said it is better not to get too close to the monkeys, as they need to maintain their wild nature.

Different from the local “monkey protectors”, Zhu’s main daily work is to educate the visitors about the forest and the monkeys, and record how many tourists have been there. While the park is open to the public only in the morning, in the afternoon she takes photos, makes videos and writes blog.

Being here for the first time, Zhu can only stay for one month according to the regulation of the volunteer organization, but she said she will miss the people and monkeys here and will definitely come back again in the future.

Here are some photos of the Yunnan golden hair monkeys provided to Sino-US.com, and shot by Liu Tiejun from World Chinese Weekly and Zhu Yezhou.

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