A day filled with doucs

When I looked through the binoculars I met a pair of almost-human eyes glaring back at me. It was an odd sensation. The eyes were haunting: dark, penetrating, they burned with an intensity that sent a shiver through my body. But it was a shiver of pure pleasure because I was face-to-face with one of the most spectacular primates on the planet: the red-shanked douc langur. As I gazed at the langur, I wondered, yet again, how evolution could have concocted such a fantastic-looking species. Long, white whiskers framed an orange-tinted face, ivory-clad forearms ended in jet-black hands, and velvety legs that blazed a fierce vermillion. It is a creature too incredible, too beautiful, to be real. And yet there it was. For several minutes I admired the doucs as they browsed. Then, with a rustling of branches and leaves, the group moved off, loping long-armed through the canopy. The forest was still again. Huy, an expert on red-shanked doucs and our guide for the day, smiled and suggested that we move on. He said there was another group that lived nearby, and that with any luck, we’d get a good view of the dominant male. I nodded and lowered my binoculars. The truck growled to life and we set off.

The Song Tran peninsula, located just outside of Da Nang, has one of the highest concentrations of red-shanked douc in the world, and it was here that we spent the afternoon. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen red-shanked doucs: over the years I’ve snatched glimpses while working in the Saola Nature Reserves, but those sightings were little more than blurred splashes of color high above in the treetops. Today we had clear, close views, and these observations gave me a deeper appreciation for this primate. More than anything, though, it was nice to be in forest in Vietnam and to see wildlife. I felt a sense of elation the entire day: in a job where one studies but seldom sees animals, where one wanders forests that have been emptied of anything larger than a loaf of bread, it was refreshing to see wildlife: a pick-me-up that I needed more than I knew. Soon I would be back working in the forests of central Vietnam where doucs were rare and, when present, as skittish as any shot-at primate would be. But the encounters I had today would keep me going through the lean times to come. I felt that my spirits were lifted just enough.

We left just as the sun was sinking in the west. The forests of Song Tra glowed red: it was as if the entire peninsula had taken on the crimson hue of the primates that lived there. In just four hours we had encountered seven individual groups of red-shanked douc. In just four hours we had observed, again and again, the most stunning primate in the world—and, for my money, the most striking of all the Annamite endemics. We had seen one of the most endangered species in Vietnam thriving in its natural habitat. Yes, I reflected, it would be enough to keep me going.

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Red-shanked douc langur hidden in the canopy
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Where the forest meets the sea: Song Tra

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One thought on “A day filled with doucs”

  1. A good place both for heart to pump or refresh enthusiasm blood again and for mind to feel peace instead of the fighting of thoughts. And you were so damn lucky that in just only 4 hours, you saw 7 groups!!!!! You should get a lot of good photos to share and let pp admire this wonderful creature as well.
    Besides, it’s “Son Tra” :).

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