The Year of the Monkey is almost here. So almost every shop and mall across Hong Kong is decorated with red and gold monkeys swinging from shop signs, doorways and walkways.
But if you want to see some real golden monkeys, go to Ocean Park.
There you can find three golden snub-nosed monkeys, two females named Le Le and Hu Hu and one male named Qi Qi. These monkeys look strange, with their blue faces, weird noses and golden fur. But hunters don't care about their looks, and have killed enough of them to put these creatures on the endangered list. Only about 8,000 to 15,000 are left in the wild.
Golden snub-nosed monkeys are native to the mainland; they can be generally found in Hubei, Shaanxi, Gansu and Sichuan provinces. In the wild, they can live in groups as large as 600, but commonly live in bands of five to 10. They communicate with sounds that are a lot like human singing, calling to each other from high up in the trees.
Although Hongkongers might be shivering in the recent cold weather, these monkeys are just fine with a bit of winter chill. They usually live in the mountains and are used to cold winters and snow for several months of the year. Their colourful fur also helps protect them against the cold and snow.
When Le Le and Hu Hu first came to Ocean Park in 2012, the animal keepers there had to learn how to properly care for these rare monkeys. In addition, their enclosure needed to have lots of tall trees for them to live and play in, and the temperature and humidity had to be controlled to keep them happy, especially during the hot and wet Hong Kong summers. Ocean Park spent HK$10 million to renovate the former panda habitat and make it as close to home as possible for Le Le and Hu Hu.
"To prepare ourselves for the arrival of Le Le and Hu Hu, we sent animal keepers to Sichuan … to learn from experts at the Chengdu Zoo on how to take care of golden monkeys," says Ocean Park chairman Allan Zeman.
Keeping these three monkeys happy and healthy is important for the future of the species, which the central government has declared a national treasure. "The golden monkey is a highly endangered species whose natural habitat has been damaged in the past and now faces the impact of ever-increasing human activities," says Sichuan Forestry Department deputy director Jiang Chu. "By having these golden monkeys become animal ambassadors at Ocean Park, we hope they'll raise public awareness of the importance of protecting the wild golden monkeys and help their conservation campaign."
Outside China, only Japan and South Korea keep golden snub-nosed monkeys.
The population of these monkeys has fallen by more than half in the past 40 years, because of habitat loss and people hunting them for their golden fur. Today it is illegal to kill them or to catch and sell them.
Qi Qi joined Le Le and Hu Hu at Ocean Park last year, and the park now hopes to breed the monkeys. Maybe the Year of the Monkey will bring good luck to these endangered creatures.