Preserving Wildlife

Primate Conservation for Monkeys and Kids


Recently, our field research team in China has made several important discoveries about the behavior of the highly endangered Guizhou snub-nosed monkey Rhinopithecus brelichi. Using camera traps, we now know that these monkeys are active during both day and night. This finding has broad-reaching implications for this species and others that have always been considered to have diurnal activity patterns.

We believe Guizhou snub-nosed monkeys are extending their activity beyond daylight hours to increase feeding time, thereby maximizing their energy intake. We also discovered that these monkeys consume fallen fruit that lies frozen on the ground during the harsh winter months. Such adaptive behavioral patterns help ensure the survival of the monkeys during periods of food scarcity.

Exciting discoveries like these are of greatest value when they are incorporated into species conservation plans, because conservation requires an understanding of the biology of the animals we want to protect. All around the globe, conservationists have shown that comprehensive wildlife knowledge positively influences the maturing of conservation strategies that, in turn, must be inextricably linked to human values and attitudes.

China is rich in biodiversity, but as has happened in many other species-rich locations, rapid economic development has led to an increased loss in habitat and wildlife. Conservation as a subject is not commonly included in biological or social sciences in China. We are trying to change that with our Little Green Guards education program, by spreading basic biological knowledge, an essential element for changing attitudes and developing a sound conservation ethic. Studies have shown that knowledge leads to empathy and better conservation practices, with early childhood education considered to be pivotal in building a foundation for change in attitude toward the conservation of wildlife.


In China, the education of people is highly variable, and it is difficult to ensure an equitable distribution of educational materials and resources, especially in the poor, rural areas where our team concentrates its efforts.  The majority of the direct impact on natural habitats and wildlife occurs in rural areas where the wildlife occurs, and where the education system is weakest. 

Because most rural children will not obtain a formal education much beyond primary school, we are developing age-appropriate informal lessons by incorporating art and music to teach elementary schoolchildren about wildlife biology and conservation. Our education program also serves to enrich the lives of these under-privileged children.


Coming full circle, the candid images captured by our camera traps are included in our conservation lessons for rural primary schools. These images of leopard cats, monkeys, and mother bears with cubs help the children understand what occurs in their backyard, as well as foster pride and stewardship of their native habitat and wildlife.

By Chia Tan, Ph.D., Scientist, San Diego Zoo Global.
Photos: Child with monkey picture by D. Cui; Camera Trap image courtesy of SDZG and Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve (FNNR).