MYANMAR SNUB-NOSED MONKEY

Rhinopithecus strykeri

Geographic Distribution and Habitat
Discovered in 2010 and identified as a new species in 2011, the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus strykeri) lives between N’mai Hka River and Salween River in Kashin State at the border of Myanmar and China. 

Although the exact distribution of this monkey population requires more investigation, it is estimated that the total population does not exceed 950 individuals. They are isolated from the Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys by two natural barriers—the Mekong and Salween rivers.

In Myanmar, they inhabit an area covering approximately 216 sq mi (560 sq km) of mountain forests located in the watershed of the Maw and Lakin rivers—which are tributaries to the N’mai Hka River.

There are also 10 groups living on the eastern slopes of the Gaoligong mountain range toward the Salween River in China. Their territory covers approximately 880 sq mi (2,300 sq km). Of those groups, three seem to regularly travel between Myanmar and China.

All live at altitudes between 8,500 and 10,000 ft (2600-3100 m).

Myanmar snub-nosed monkey geographic range, so small, we encircled it in red to make it easier to locate. Map: IUCN 2012.

Size, Weight, and Lifespan
The Myanmar snub-nosed monkeys belong to the colobine family and are rather large. Males are twice as big as females and have much larger canines. On average, males weigh 37 lb (17 kg) versus 19 lb (9 kg) for females. They are about 21 in (55 cm) tall and their tail is 30 in (78 cm) long.

Although the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey’s lifespan is unknown, based on other snub-nosed species it can be estimated that they live to 20-25 years of age.

Appearance
Myanmar snub-nosed monkeys can easily be distinguished from other snub-nosed monkeys by their black or blackish-brown pelage. Their light pink face strikingly contrasts to their dark body. Their lips are prominent and thick. Their black eyes are almond-shaped. Like other snub-nosed monkeys, their nose faces upwards with wide upturned nostrils. Their chin is covered with a white delicate thin beard. Males have a crest that sweeps forward and white ear tufts. Their limbs are muscular and they have five digits on hands and feet with opposable thumb and big toe. Babies are born pale with whitish hair.

Their common name is derived, in part, from their flattened noses, which sit back from the muzzle with wide, forward-facing nostrils. Two flaps of skin sit above the high-arching nostrils; while the purpose of these flaps has not been studied, some theories suggest they may aid in protecting against frostbite during the long, cold winters.

What Does It Mean?

Gazettement:
A method of managing forested areas or land in order to preserve it and protect the species that live there from poaching or illegal logging. A gazetted forest is a protected forest.

Visit the Glossary for more definitions

Photo courtesy of ©Yin Yang. Used with permission.

Diet
Like all colobine monkeys, they are predominantly folivorous, but also eat fruit, seeds, bark, buds, stems, and lichens. The latter are an important food source found in coniferous forests.

Since snub-nosed monkeys inhabit mixed conifer and broadleaf forests, they feed on foliage and fruit from the following species: acer (maple trees), prunus (various fruit trees), ilex (evergreen and deciduous trees), quercus (oaks trees), magnolia, and rhododendron. In coniferous areas, trees of the tsuga dumosa (also known as Himalyan hemlock), abies (pine trees), and betula (birch) family are also good source of nutrients. At higher altitudes they also feed on bamboo leaves and bamboo shoots.

Lichens are poor in nutrients and toxic; fortunately, the stomach of the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey can extract nutrients from lichens and process them.

Behavior and Lifestyle
No information is known about the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey daily routines yet; however, their routines may be similar to those of the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey.

Most of the information found on the species originates from interviews that Flora & Fauna International (FFI) scientists conducted with local hunters who say that these monkeys live at high altitudes from May to October, but when snowfall starts and food is scarce, they can be found lower and closer to villages.

Their home range is estimated at 7-14 sq mi (12-23 sq km).

Early videos of the newly discovered species show individuals leap-jump from branch to branch with agility. 

Daily Life and Group Dynamics 
It would seem that, like the Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys, the Myanmar species lives in a multilevel society. Troops or bands include several families or groups—which can be as small as 3 to 10 individuals. These are organized in units of one male and several females with offspring. There are also all-male units.

Communication
Like most primates, Myanmar snub-nosed monkeys communicate both visually and vocally. Snub-nosed monkey species defend their territory with shouts, and have a large vocal repertoire of solo and chorus calls.

Reproduction and Family
Males reach sexual maturity between 6 and 7 years of age; females reach it between 5 and 6.

The entire population of the species is low, with no more than 330 individuals estimated, and it has been decreasing steadily since the discovery of the species in 2010. It is estimated that, of the groups observed, less than a quarter will be present in the future. Birth rate for the Myanmar snub-nosed monkeys is lower than that of other snub-nosed species, which is not a good sign for their survival.

Fun Facts

Snub-nosed monkeys are found in China, Vietnam, and Myanmar. There are five species, all of them either classified as Endangered or Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species.

The Myanmar snub-nosed monkey was discovered in 2010 by a team of Flora & Fauna International (FFI) and the Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA). It was classified as a new species in 2011.

The Myanmar snub-nosed monkey was originally named Burmese snub-nosed monkey.

In China, it is named Nujiang or black snub-nosed monkey—which can be confusing since the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey is also referred to as black snub-nosed monkey. The Myanmar people have a couple names for this monkey, myuk na tok te and mey nwoah—both mean “monkey with an up-turned nose.”

The scientific name of the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey, Rhinopithecus Strykeri, was chosen to honor Jon Stryker, the president and founder of the Arcus Foundation. His financial contributions supported the field survey in Myanmar that led to the discovery of the new species.

When it rains, the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey is said to sit with her head tucked face down between her knees to avoid getting rain water into her nose. When it happens, she sneezes loudly.

Photo courtesy of ©Yin Yang. Used with permission.

Ecological Role
These leaf-eating monkeys play a role in the dispersal of seeds throughout their habitat, which affects the survival of plant species in their region.

Conservation Status and Threats
The Myanmar snub-nosed monkey is listed as Critically Endangered in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List (IUCN, 2015). The current population, which is divided into five known sub-populations, is estimated at 350-400 mature individuals.

Hunting has always been a threat for Myanmar snub-nosed monkeys. They are sought after for their fur, meat, bones, and brains. Even when they may not be the main targets, the monkeys can get caught in iron traps set for bears. The problem is exacerbated because hunting methods have dramatically evolved, from bows and home-made powder guns to factory-made shotguns.

The human population has exploded over the last twenty years—from 4.92 million in the year 2000 to 5.34 million in the Nujiang Prefecture alone. People-induced stress on the environment, the forest, and its products (timber, medicinal plants, bark, scented woods, and maple trees) is therefore increasing. Consequently, the habitat of these monkeys is threatened by an increasing number of road constructions and the expansion of logging activities. The project for a new hydropower dam sponsored by the China Power Investment Corporation and the Myanmar Ministry of Electrical Power is another real threat to the snub-nosed monkey territory and biodiversity in the area, as forest fragmentation causes species populations to be separated and makes them less adaptable and more vulnerable to climate changes, diseases, and other disruptors.

Conservation Efforts
All is not lost, but the situation is dire for the Myanmar snub-nosed monkeys. This is why efforts such as the trans-boundary hunting ban signed by the governments of China and Myanmar in 2015 are important. Since its implementation, the number of transboundary activities like logging, mining, and gold planning have dropped, thereby reducing the stress on the monkey’s habitat. 

The work of FFI is crucial for conservation in the region. This organization has been collaborating with the Myanmar Forest Department since 2011 and has been braving many dangers in doing so.

The 2018 gazettement decree by the Myanmar government, which includes the creation of non-hunting core zone, is expected to increase awareness related to conservation issues in 54 villages surrounding the Imawbum National Park. For conservation efforts to be successful, it is crucial to consult and include indigenous people and ensure there are plans for them to earn a living and thrive.

Finally—as was emphasized by scientists, NGO staff, and government officials who participated in the 2016 workshop on Opportunities for Trans-boundary Collaboration for Conservation and Development along the Northern Section of the China-Myanmar Border—collaboration between two countries is critical in order to control wildlife poaching, over-harvesting of forest products, and illegal trade of biological resources—as well as to monitor endangered species and promote sustainable livelihoods for the local human communities.

OUR THANKS

Special thanks to Mr. Yin Yang, Australian National University, and the Institute of Eastern-Himalaya Biodiversity Research (IEHBR), Dali University (DU), Dali, P.R. China, for providing Myanmar snub-nosed monkey information and generously permitting us to use his beautiful photographs.

Many thanks to Prof. Christian Roos of the German Primate Center, Göttingen, Germany, for providing the Conservation Status report of the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey.

​References:

  • World’s first footage of the newly discovered Myanmar snub-nosed monkey – Youtube video published by Flora & Fauna International organization.
  • ​American Journal of Primatology 72:1 – 12 (2010) – “A New Species of Snub-Nosed Monkey, Genus Rhinopithecus Milne-Edwards, 1872 (Primates, Colobinae), From Northern Kachin State, Northeastern Myanmar” – Thomas Geissmann, Ngwe Lwin, Saw Soe Aung, Thet Naing Aung, Zin Myo Aung, Tony Htin Hla, Mark Grindley, Frank Momberg.
  • ​Conservation Status of the Myanmar or Black Snub-nosed Monkey – Rhinopithecus Strykeri – Dirk Meyer, Frank Momberg, Christian Matauschek, Patrick Oswald, Ngwe Lwin, Saw Soe Aung, Yin Yang, Wen Xiao, Yong-Cheng Long, Cyril C. Grueter & Christian Roos
  • Debating Democratization in Myanmar edited by Nick Cheesman, Nicholas Farrelly, Trevor Wilson
  • The sneezing monkey with an upturned face, and other other weird species – The Guardian
  • Newly discovered snub-nosed monkey sneezes in the rain – Science Daily

Written by Sylvie Abrams, August 2018