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Mountain of the Apes


Text and photographs by Chun Shi

About 700 Guizhou snub-nosed monkeys, also known as gray golden-hair monkeys, call Mount Fanjing, the main peak of Guizhou Province’s Wuling Mountains, home. The primate, characterized by gray and brown fur, a light purple or blue face, plump lips, upturned nostrils, large round eyes, and a long tail, is under Chinese state-class protection. Those lucky enough to catch a glimpse of them usually notice the agile creatures jumping from tree to tree. Compared with China’s other two endemic golden monkey species, Sichuan and Yunnan snub-nosed, Guizhou’s species suffers from fewer numbers, more impending threats, and a narrower distribution range. The animal is considered one of the most endangered species on earth, inspiring its nickname, “the only child of the world.”

In 1903, British missionary Oldfield Thomas discovered some fur of a never-before-seen Chinese monkey, and he named the animal Rhinopithecus brelichi. Over the next century, zoologists frequently studied Mount Fanjing in hopes of learning more about the elusive animal. However, until last year, not much was known about the rare monkey. How do they live in the wild? How is their social organization? What impact has their unique habitat on Mount Fanjing made on their behavior?

In early 2010, CCTV-10’s Discovery team formulated a plan to send a crew deep into the forests of Mount Fanjing to film a documentary titled In Search of Guizhou Snub-Nosed Monkeys, with hopes of finding answers to those questions. I was appointed director of the documentary even though I had never before attempted a wildlife film. Before departing for Mount Fanjing, we consulted Professor Xie Jiahua at the Department of Biological Science and Technology of Guizhou Normal University, one of the world’s top researchers of Guizhou snub-nosed monkeys, to learn about the animal’s distribution range, habits, and activities. 

Mount Fanjing straddles Yinjiang, Jiangkou, and Songtao counties in Tongren City, covering an area of 567 square kilometers. As the apex of the Wuling Mountains, it links the eastern highland and western hills of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau. Over millions of years, geological movement of the area’s diverse landforms created a fusion of rolling hills, deep ravines, towering peaks, crisscrossing streams, and roaring waterfalls. Mother Nature sculpted Mount Fanjing into a primitive ecological kingdom that has rarely been touched by humans. Due to its vast territory and high altitude, Mount Fanjing hosts considerable biodiversity and serves as home to many rare plants and animals.

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