I have been studying the behaviour and conservation of four species of snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus spp.) in China since 2002.
The monkeys form stable, mixed-sex bands of several hundred members, with two to five adult females for every adult male. Some unmated males form groups to improve their chances of reproduction. Young males are expelled from mixed-sex groups to prevent in-breeding.
In this photo, I’m observing a group of unmated male black-and-white snub-nosed monkeys (R. bieti) in Baima Xueshan National Nature Reserve in China’s Yunnan province. It took about two years for the monkeys to become comfortable with our presence and come that close to us.
My team and I found that unmated males stay separate from but close to mixed-sex bands. In this way, they can mate with females when a resident male lead from a mixed-sex group is temporarily absent.
Studying these monkeys has taught me the importance of cooperation in my personal life and work. Male leaders in mixed-sex groups join forces to defend their positions and prevent hostile takeover by unmated male monkeys. And female monkeys nurse one another’s offspring to help infants survive. I encourage my students to do likewise, supporting one another and forming collaborations.
My research has helped me to update the Chinese government on the monkeys’ population status and the threats they face, and to suggest ideas for their conservation. My team and I found that infant-monkey deaths increased every year in July and August in Honglaxueshan National Nature Reserve in Tibet. We learnt that that’s when farmers were looking for the highly desirable Song Rong mushroom (Tricholoma matsutake), and that they would tease the monkeys, causing them to feel threatened and to abandon their infants. Local authorities used our information to tell the villagers to leave the monkeys alone.