A male and a female golden snub-nosed monkeys looking on as members of their troop fight among the treetops, deep in the Qinling Mountains of Central China. The image wins top prize at this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award. (Photo Provided to China Daily)
A photograph of two golden snub-nosed monkeys has won top prize at this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award, to the delight of primatologists who hope the image will raise awareness for this threatened Chinese species.
The annual competition is run by the Natural History Museum in London and is the world's largest wildlife photography contest. This year, 45,000 entries from 95 countries were judged, and the "grand title" prize for best overall image was selected from the winners of 19 categories.
This year's overall winner was Dutch photographer Marsel van Oosten for his image showing a male and a female golden snub-nosed monkeys looking on as members of their troop fight among the treetops, deep in the Qinling Mountains of Central China. "In a world which is in thrall to special effects, this image celebrates the majestic and otherworldly presence of nature, and reminds us of our crucial role in protecting it," said Natural History Museum Director Michael Dixon.
There are around 22,000 golden snub-nosed monkeys living in the forested mountain sides of central China. Small family units of one male, several females and offspring convene in troops of up to 600 individuals. The monkeys primarily feed on lichen, which grows abundantly on dead trees, so the gathering of firewood by humans can cause food shortages.
The animal is classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which says habitat loss and fragmentation are the main threats to the survival of the species.
Joanna Setchell, a professor of primatology at Durham University and president of the Primate Society of Great Britain, said the photo is representative of the diversity of Chinese fauna.
She hopes that the image will raise the profile of China's 25 indigenous primate species, and prove that the Chinese wilderness has much to offer beyond giant pandas.
"I think the golden snub-nosed monkey has the possibility to be a flagship species in the same way that pandas are," Setchell said. "The fact that a photograph of this species has won this award is fantastic news because that increases awareness."
The golden snub-nosed monkey shares its habitat with the giant panda in several areas of China, and the animal has benefited from efforts to protect the bear, according to Charlotte MacDonald, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland's director of conservation and living collections.
Since the early 1990s, the Chinese government has protected 33,118 square kilometers of panda reserve.
"Safeguarding panda habitats also helps to protect many other animals they live alongside, including golden snub-nosed monkeys," she said.
This is not the first time an image of the golden snub-nosed monkey has scooped a prize at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award. In 2010, Pei Haijun was victorious in the category for children of 10 years and under, for a portrait of a monkey he spotted while exploring the Qinling Mountains with his parents.
Two other Chinese photographers have won awards in individual categories since the competition began in 1964.
In 2001, veteran Chinese wildlife photographer Xi Zhinong won the contest's Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Wildlife with his image of a black snub-nosed monkey.
Photographer Zhu Yongkang won the Animals in Their Environment category in 2008 for a shot of swans taking flight during snowfall.
Winning shots from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award 2018 go on exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London from Friday.