Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dr. Pan's Secret Lair

At first glance, the Chongzuo EcoPark, where biologist Pan Wenshi studies white-headed langurs, appears as timeless as a Chinese landscape painting. Rugged karst peaks shoot straight out of rice paddies and sugar cane fields tended by villagers and their water buffalo. It's a scene that seems little changed for thousands of years.

The reality, however, is much more interesting.

The Chongzuo EcoPark is a former military base that was in the process of being decommissioned when Pan first arrived thirteen years ago.
Few signs of the area’s military past remain except for a massive munitions storage depot carved into the middle of one of the reserve’s mountains.

Six-inch-thick steel reinforced cement doors guard the entrance to the now abandoned depot, but much of the inside remains a natural limestone cave.

On one side of the mountain the cave opens to a cliff face about 70 meters above the valley floor where a langur family roosts most nights. Pan's assistants—LiJun, JinTong, and Lin—recently drilled a couple of cameras into the cliff face for some close up observations.

The Chinese biologist is fascinated by sociobiology, the theory that certain social behaviors—such as the practice of infanticide by male langurs—are evolutionarily advantageous.

With these cameras—which connect to a tent-enclosed-desktop inside the cave—he hopes to unlock the secrets of the animal's monkey business.

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