Endemic Lao Langur is Now Closer to Extinction, WWF Calls for More Robust Conservation Efforts

A Lao Langur in Phou Hin Poun National Biodiversity Conservation Area. Photo by Dr. Phaivanh Phiapalath-Green Discovery Laos
A Lao Langur in Phou Hin Poun National Biodiversity Conservation Area. Photo by Dr. Phaivanh Phiapalath-Green Discovery Laos

The Lao Langur, an endemic leaf monkey found only in a small area of Laos, is now listed as endangered in the IUCN Red List.

In the IUCN Red List update published on December 10, 2020, the Lao Langur (Trachypithecus laotum) has been up-listed from “Vulnerable” to “Endangered.”

While the assessment doesn’t provide a population estimate, it states that the suitable habitat of this endemic leaf monkey – a unique evergreen forest growing on the steep limestone karst mountains that span the Nam Kading and Phou Hin Poun National Biodiversity Conservation Areas – is less than 2,000 km² and highly fragmented. Their habitat is threatened by agricultural and infrastructure encroachment, with smallholder farming, logging and mining being the main drivers of habitat loss.

Furthermore, the species is very threatened by hunting driven by the illegal wild meat and medicine trade, with demand for monkey bones for traditional medicine coming from neighboring Viet Nam and further afield in China. Indeed, hunting of primates for the illegal trade in this part of Laos is particularly pronounced, given its proximity to the Viet Nam border.

While the Lao Langur has historically been protected by its propensity to inhabit difficult to traverse karst cliffs, new roads have made it easier to access previously remote areas, posing a major threat to the species’ survival.

A langur being held in a facility in Lak Sao near the Vietnames border.
A langur being held in a facility near Lak Sao and the Vietnamese border.

“Although the Lao Langur is protected under the National Aquatic and Wildlife Law, more needs to be done to enforce the law and protect it from the wildlife trade,” said Sonephet Mounlamany, Illegal Wildlife Trade Program National Coordinator, WWF-Laos.

“Recently I have seen the Lao langur being held illegally in captivity in a facility in Lak Sao. This trade, both for live animals, as well as for wild meat and sham medicine, must stop if we are to save this Lao endemic species and protect our Lao natural heritage.”

Although the Red List update was just released, it is based on an assessment from 2015 that draws on field survey data that is 10 – 20 years old.

“The fact that this assessment was published so long after the research was conducted means that the situation for the Lao Langur is likely much direr than is reflected in the Red List assessment,” said K. Yoganand, WWF Greater Mekong’s Wildlife and Wildlife Crime lead.

“Not only do we need new field surveys to be conducted, immediate conservation measures need to be taken to stop the species from sliding toward extinction.”

Of the 40-odd species of primates occurring in the Greater Mekong region, the Red List has assessed and listed 36 as threatened with extinction and 30 species as endangered or critically endangered. Ten of these species have been reclassified as being closer to extinction and up-listed in the 2020 assessments. Immediate attention and larger conservation investments must be made to save these species.