Meet the endangered red-shanked douc langur in Vietnam

This resort may have a Michelin-starred chef, spectacular design by Bill Bensley and private funicular, but the real treasure is hiding in the trees. 

A few hundred metres from where I stand, a family of red-shanked douc langurs face off with a troop of barking macaques in the branches of Son Tra Peninsula’s jungle canopy. The macaques put on an aggressive display, but eventually cede their position to the bigger primate.  Confrontation averted, the douc langur family retreats into the cool shadows of the trees, their red legs and white tails disappearing beneath the leaves. Retaking my seat on the open-top buggy, we set off in search of the next sighting, the wind offering a brief respite from Vietnam’s relentless heat and humidity. 

“Being a macaque is a tough life,” says zoologist Anthony Barker. “It’s bully or be bullied, constantly fighting for food. The doucs are more peaceful and don’t typically fight amongst themselves for food.” It’s my first day at InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort, and I’ve joined a 7:30 AM nature tour of the 39-hectare property. Guided by Barker, winner of the World Tourism Network 2022 Tourism Hero Award (and the resort’s resident animal expert), I keep my eyes peeled for dropping leaves, discarded branches, and other telltale signs of the critically endangered arboreal monkey.

Red-shanked douc langur in the Son Tra jungle canopy
Red-shanked douc langur in the Son Tra jungle canopy © Laura Barry

Luxury meets conservation

InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort is one of Vietnam’s leading five-star resorts. The sprawling property showcases incredible architecture and interior design by renowned designer Bill Bensley. It boasts a private funicular known as the ‘Nam Tram,’ and its French fine dining restaurant, La Maison 1888, is helmed by Michelin-starred chef Pierre Gagnaire. It’s also one of the very few places in the world where guests can come face-to-face with the critically endangered red-shanked douc langur monkeys. Rough estimates suggest only around 3000 remain in the wild, scattered across isolated pockets of jungle in Laos and Vietnam. One of the largest surviving populations resides right here on the Son Tra Peninsula, and the resort is determined to ensure its growth.

“We’re committed to creating a conservation area for the local douc langur families. We house five families within the resort grounds,” says Barker. “We facilitate their peaceful migration by monitoring and enhancing their routes, preserving natural bridges and constructing artificial ones. We cultivate the appropriate types of trees in our resort and educate our staff and guests on appropriate behaviour to minimise anthropogenic impact.” As Barker navigates the narrow resort pathways and oncoming buggies of breakfast-bound guests, we drive beneath five ladder-like treetop bridges and a lush plantation of banyan and almond trees – favourites of the doucs. “Where the roads are too wide for the trees to grow across naturally, we’ve installed these bridges,” explains Barker.

A villa at the InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort
A villa at the resort © InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort

Meet the red-shanked douc langur

While I spot reptiles, an abundance of butterflies, and more macaques, the tour concludes without another douc langur encounter. Despite their size, reaching up to 150 centimetres from head to tail, red-shanked douc langurs are a shy species that interpret direct eye contact as aggression and dislike loud human noise. Famous for their red legs, little yellow faces and Santa-like white beards, their population has dwindled by up to 80% in the past 30 years due to habitat loss, trafficking, and poaching.

Red-shanked douc langur adult and infant
Red-shanked douc langur adult and infant © Laura Barry

Fighting against illegal trade 

Some unknowing poachers may hunt douc langurs for meat, but most are captured or killed for the illegal traditional medicine market, says Barker. “Their body parts are highly sought after, similar to rhino horn or pangolin scales, and are often used as a status symbol by the wealthy. As long as demand for these products exists, the douc langurs will continue to be poached.” While Son Tra Peninsula doesn’t have sufficient local ranger patrols to deter poachers permanently, the resort has tight security and vigilant staff who watch for signs of illegal wildlife trade activities. “As a result, our resort acts as a secure reserve within the larger reserve, providing a safe haven for the douc langurs,” says Barker. Even sets of twins have been born to the douc langur families here, as rare an occurrence for them as it is for humans.

Red-shanked douc langur
Red-shanked douc langur © Laura Barry

Living proof

Barker’s claim is true. During my stay at InterContinental Danang Sun Penisula Resort, I spot red-shanked douc langurs lounging, playing and swinging through the trees right inside the resort. A family with two infants watched guests from the trees next to the Vietnamese restaurant, Citron; another group peered down from the branches near the yoga pavilion. More still were spotted from the Nam Tram and on the walk along the top-level roads. 

“We collaborate with local environmental and non-governmental organisations in various ways,” says Barker. “This includes raising donations through the sale of our nature and Douc Langur toys, seeking advice on conservation efforts like wildlife bridges, and working with top university students to enhance and optimise our conservation strategies.” 

Nam Tram at InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort
Nam Tram © InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort

A cause worth fighting for 

Though douc langurs are a little-known and understudied species, their survival is critical for both the environment and the Vietnamese people. Their extinction would disrupt the ecosystem significantly, as they play a vital role in seed dispersal and forest regeneration. 

“Son Tra Peninsula’s value goes beyond its ecological significance. It’s a tourist drawcard for Vietnam and Da Nang, boosting the economy and human well-being,” says Barker. “Ethically, we’re obliged to protect intelligent species like douc langurs, known for their empathy and complex social behaviours. Studying these primates can further our understanding of ourselves, aid our future survival, and lead to advancements in medicine and science.

How to see red-shanked douc langurs at InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort 

InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort conducts guided nature tours throughout the week for guests. These tours aim to raise awareness about protecting Son Tra Peninsula, Vietnam’s wider environment, and the global ecosystem. The red-shanked douc langurs may be the star attraction at this wildlife reserve, but there’s an abundance of other species to discover on the property. Rhesus macaques can be spotted almost anywhere (even on guests’ suite balconies, enjoying the view!), while Pallas’s squirrels, wild boar families, Indian muntjac, and a diverse array of butterflies and reptiles also call the resort home. Son Tra Peninsula is also an important stopover for migratory birds, especially during storms when many species nest in the nearby jungle.

“The nature tours are very popular, and we’re looking to hire more wildlife experts to provide this important experience for our guests,” says Barker.

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