Conserving Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys
Photo Credit: Le Khac Quyet

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About Vietnam

Vietnam is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. It is often described as having some of the highest biodiversity in the entire world, and of the nearly 275 mammal species that call Vietnam home, 25 are primates. Sadly, 22 of those 25 primate species are threatened with extinction, including the critically endangered Tonkin snub-nosed monkey.

In the remote northern limestone karst formations of Vietnam’s Ha Giang Province, a 1,000 hectare protected forest called Khau Ca is home to the largest population of Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys in the world. Scientists believe this population is the species’ best hope for survival, but that means there’s a lot riding on this group of monkeys, and competition for resources is on the rise.

Why the Tonkin Snub-Nosed Monkey?

Fewer than 250 Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys are left on the planet today. Their long-term survival is largely dependent on a single population of 125 individuals living in Vietnam’s northernmost Province, Ha Giang. Hunting and habitat destruction have contributed to Tonkin snub-nosed (TSN) monkey population declines over the last two decades, but recent efforts to curb hunting and habitat loss in this forest have worked well, so now the primary threat to these monkeys is human use of natural resources – especially large trees the TSN monkeys depend upon for survival.

The local people are poor, subsistence-based farmers. More often than not, families are marginalized ethnic minorities who grow and make most of what they need to survive. They rely on forest timber for cooking fires and use the same open hearths to heat their homes in chilly months. Local people also use large trees to construct traditional wooden stilt homes, as well as for sale in local markets. In short, the communities surrounding this forest rely on forest timber just as much as their neighbors, the Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys.

Answering Key Questions

While we know humans are using timber from the forest for cooking and home construction, Denver Zoo is working to identify and address barriers (such as affordability, availability, and function) might keep them from adopting alternative materials. For instance, when our first fuel-efficient stove design proved unpopular, we discovered it was because one burner was not sufficient for household needs, so we began promoting a new two-burner model. We’re also using research to identify the hardest hit areas of the forest—what we call hotspots of human encroachment—and the seasons when timber is harvested the most so we can improve protection and time our outreach campaigns to have the greatest influence on human behavior. All the while, we’re tracking the TSN monkeys and studying the impact our efforts have on their population.

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Conservation Approach in Vietnam

Denver Zoo studies the monkey’s ecology and patterns of human forest use, an approach that helps us determine priority threats to address. This research, combined with nearly 10 years of experience in the region, has revealed that we must help local people minimize their reliance on forest timber. So we encourage them to diversify cooking, heating, and construction resources through a holistic approach.

Conservation Vietnam Community Engagement

Community Engagement

We engage communities surrounding the Khau Ca forest to enhance their understanding of the local and global importance of the forest and TSN monkeys, and then encourage them to convert that knowledge into conservation action. We do this through the following activities:

  • Recruit and train local people as conservation ambassadors, educators, and event coordinators, stove builders, and ecological and social scientists.
  • With our partner, New Nature Foundation, and with the help of specially trained local Stove Ambassadors, we develop, adapt, and promote low-cost, culturally appropriate fuel efficient stoves that reduce overall household fuel consumption and decrease the need to harvest the same timber TSN monkeys need.
  • Host two annual Monkey Day events that celebrate the forest, the monkey, and fuel efficient stoves through demonstrations that show off the stoves, as well as friendly competitions highlighting traditional art, dance, and song. These events attract up to 2,000 people each year and help build excitement and pride around the monkey and efforts to conserve the species. Event-goers can also request our team help them build and learn to use fuel efficient stoves in their homes.
  • Carry out an annual Forest Appreciation Program designed to increase 4th and 5th grade participants’ knowledge of and appreciation for the monkey, and to motivate them to change behaviors that negatively impact its habitat.
  • Train and support local teachers to develop their own interactive science curriculum which focuses on forest ecology, TSN monkeys, and efforts to conserve them. These lessons become a part of their regular classroom teaching.
  • Distribute TSNM conservation calendars which locals look forward to receiving each year and which adorn the walls of their homes far beyond the calendar’s intended lifetime. They contain beautiful pictures of the monkeys and descriptions of the forest and the protected area boundaries and raise awareness about our conservation initiatives.

Capacity Building

One of our Stove Ambassadors, Mr. Canh, was so dedicated to the fuel efficient stove project that he persevered through dozens of burned meals until he mastered its use in his own home. Then he helped us develop a new, two-burner model that proved far more useful—and popular—among other community households. In recognition of his enthusiasm and leadership, Denver Zoo recently hired Mr. Canh as Lead Stove Ambassador. Now he makes a good living training and overseeing new Stove Ambassadors while helping protect the TSN monkeys’ habitat.

Denver Zoo also supports young Vietnamese scientists like Luu Tuong Bach, who serves as our Program Manager. As Denver Zoo contract staff based in Hanoi, Bach manages the Stove Ambassadors, supports event and outreach planning and delivery, oversees program operations and budget, ensures rigorous evaluation, and helps with proposal and report development. With a Master’s Degree in primate conservation, Bach’s experience in this role is helping him establish his professional reputation and network among government and NGO partners across Vietnam.

Conservation Vietnam Policy

Influence Conservation Policy

An international primate expert, Denver Zoo’s Director of Field Conservation Programs helped develop the recently ratified “Urgent Conservation Action Plan for Primates in Vietnam to 2025, Vision to 3030.” The plan prioritizes the protection, study, restoration, and expansion of Khau Ca and nearby Du Gia protected areas, among other targets, and Denver Zoo is working with several partner NGOs to help implement this critical work. Over the next few years, our team will work with the government and partners to develop and implement a TSN monkey-specific action plan.

Conservation Vietnam Success


Conservation cannot be done alone, and Denver Zoo is thankful for our strong network of partners that contribute to conservation of the Tonkin Snub-nose monkey in Vietnam:

  • New Nature Foundation
  • University of Colorado Boulder
  • Ha Giang Forestry Protection Department
  • Disney Conservation Fund
  • Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation
  • Fauna & Flora International

Conservation Success in Vietnam

Highlights of conservation success in saving the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey in Vietnam

  •  Since its discovery by Dr. Le Khac Quyet in 2002 , the population of TSN monkeys in Khau Ca forest has more than doubled to approximately 125 individuals, thanks to the efforts of Denver Zoo and a handful of partners.
  • In partnership with New Nature Foundation, we have built over 340 fuel efficient stoves in communities surrounding critical monkey habitat, each of which reduces household fuel consumption from traditional open hearths by approximately 55%. This amounts to saving 750 tons of wood per year which otherwise would have been harvested from TSN monkey or nearby forest habitat.
  • In 2017, Denver Zoo was invited for the first time by school administrators to help local educators develop official science curriculum on the TSN monkey. We worked closely with a select group of teachers on backward design, inquiry-based methods, and they created dynamic new lessons to be implemented in their classrooms—meaning approximately 3,500 students per year will be exposed to key messaging about the importance of this species and what they and their families can do to help conserve it.
  • We reach over 5,000 local people annually with campaigns and events related to the monkey, its habitat, and direct actions people can to take to ensure its survival.
  • One of our key partners, Mr. Hoang Van Tue, former director of the Tonkin Snub-Nosed Monkey and Habitat Protected Area (aka Khau Ca), was named a Disney Conservation Hero in 2017.
  • Denver Zoo helped develop and submit Vietnam’s recently ratified (2016) Primate Conservation Action Plan which commits the country to working toward the survival of its primates.

Photo Credit: Le Khac Quyet