by Minh Thi
QUANG NINH — It was around 9 o'clock in the morning. Ha Long Bay was covered in a thin veil of mist, with drops of drizzle here and there.
|A group of French tourists take photos of monkeys living in and around Ha Long Bay's Luon Cave. The monkeys have become tamer through repeated exposure to visitors. — VNS Photo Truong Vi
But none of the tourists seemed to mind the weather, they were busy watching and feeding pieces of banana to groups of monkeys living in and around Luon Cave on one of the several islets in the bay where monkeys still live. "I didn't expect to find monkeys here, it's a delight to watch them," said Rachel Hobbes, an American tourist, joyfully as about 20 of the cheeky little animals fought over the morsels, unaware of the people watching them from boats.
The appearance of so many monkeys in one area behaving without fear of humans follows the patient work in recent years of workers at the Centre for Cave and Park Conservation under the Ha Long Bay Management Committee. Luon Cave is not the only place in the bay inhabited by monkeys, but their concentration there is a big tourist drawcard.
To lure the animals to the site, workers started offering them food, later allowing tourists to feed them. Before that, the simians had to forage for food on their own. They have also become more tame through their contact with people. According to Hoang Van Hanh, deputy director of the conservation centre, about 60 rhesus monkeys live in or around Luon Cave. "Four years ago, there were only about 10 at any one time - and they were often trapped and ill-treated by local people," Hanh said.
This all changed after the centre began to supervise the area to stop the hunting of monkeys. The centre's staff also banned the use of motor boats, which disturb the ecosystem. The centre also protects the animals by making sure that tourists do not tease or harm them.
The number of monkeys living in the cave has risen to about 60. The cave has become a safe haven. More and more the monkeys congregate inside the tourist area, knowing that they are safe from hunters. Up to 500 people a day now visit the monkey cave either by boats or by kayak.
Nguyen Dac Van, an employee at the centre, said the monkeys had made the cave their home - and a top attraction. He said, however, that it was not always easy to keep control of them, because they tended to roam when fruit was in season. This exposed them to illegal hunters who were answering a demand for fresh monkey meat.
To help ferry the tourists to and from the island, the centre has hired 11 residents from Bo Nau floating fishing village to work as boatmen. This provides them with an extra income.
The same system of attracting monkeys to a central tourist location is now being used to put the many iguanas in Ha Long Bay on show. The centre has now come up with the idea of feeding iguanas from nearby Me Cung Lake to attract them to a nearby grotto of the same name. It may take months, or even years, to get the co-operation of the reptiles, but the centre's staff are patient.
"Maybe it will take some time, but I will continue to feed them regularly," said Nguyen Van Thu, one of the guards at the centre.
Ha Long Bay in northern Quang Ninh Province recently has been recognised twice as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site and has been voted one of the seven new Natural Wonders of the World. — VNS