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The Cat Ba langur is one of the world's most endangered primate second only to China's Hainan Gibbon. There are only 64 Cat Ba langurs left - but that fact doesn't mean much to poachers. Before coming to Vietnam, I'd had the impression the monkeys were hunted for their meat; the Vietnamese eat just about everything, including dogs, cats, and porcupines.
I was mistaken. Since the langurs eat very tannic leaves, their meat is bitter; it's usually just thrown away. The profit is in their bones, which are boiled down to a paste-like consistency, then steeped in rice brandy to make a medicinal tonic called "monkey balm wine. And the Cat Ba langur, though it has golden hair, is mostly black. Trapping a langur takes luck - and commitment. They're rare and elusive. A poacher has to be ready to spend days in the jungle, climbing over jagged rocks and fending off snakes, mosquitoes, bees, and centipedes.
It's illegal to hunt langurs, of course, but enforcement is sketchy: Dr. Stenke and her project serve as the eyes and arms of the law. Since Rosie is thin and dresses in black I expect her to be manic and cynical, but she's neither not to excess, at least. She has been on Cat Ba island for more than five years, and has learned to be a politician as well as a conservationist. This means threading her way through the serpentine bureaucracy and iron-clad customs - many of which involve ritual toasts and drinking - of Vietnam.
Cat Ba is actually an archipelago, consisting of islands. Many are tiny, and very close to the main island. In days past, huge mangrove swamps connected big Cat Ba with its satellites. When the mangroves were cut to build shrimp farms, a handful of langurs ended up marooned on separate isles. At present, the langur population on Cat Ba itself has 60 primates.
There is a group of three females on an adjacent island, and one lone female on another. Eventually, these females will be repatriated to the main group - although exactly how this will be accomplished is not yet clear.