Editor’s note: From time to time we like to use space at Health Talk to highlight posts written directly by our faculty, staff and students. What follows is part of our “U of M Voices”effort. The post was written by D.V.M./Ph.D. dual degree candidate Jonathan Clayton, who is a member of the Comparative and Molecular Biosciences graduate program.  Jonathan works in the lab of microbiologist Timothy Johnson, Ph.D.

Nonhuman primates, especially those native to Vietnam, are among the most endangered species in the world. Of those native to Vietnam, one highly-threatened species is the red-shanked douc (Pygathrix nemaeus), an Old World monkey species and member of the subfamily colobinae.

Colobine primates are anatomically, physiologically, and ecologically unique amongst the living primates and red-shanked doucs are a fascinating species. They have specialized gastrointestinal (GI) systems, including a multi-chambered stomach and cellulolytic microorganisms in compartments of the GI tract which play diverse roles in digestion and likely represent how the primates neutralize digestive inhibitors and potential toxins present in plant materials, which constitute the majority of their natural diet.

Successful maintenance of red-shanked doucs in traditional captive situations with the aim of breeding and repopulating restored habitats hasn’t been achieved due to an inadequate understanding of their nutritional requirements. While such populations could be a reservoir for public awareness and education, red-shanked doucs are especially susceptible to gastric disorders when maintained on artificial (i.e., commercially prepared) diets in captivity.

And that’s why we’re here in Vietnam. We want to generate a new understanding around this species, which will serve as a model for Asian colobines as a whole.

I arrived in Vietnam on October 10th. I am planning to remain in Vietnam until March 30th. After leaving Vietnam, I am planning to visit a zoo in Bangkok that houses red-shanked doucs and then travel to Singapore where I will meet with my collaborators there and collect samples from my last study population. The population housed at the Singapore Zoo represents one of the largest collections of red-shanked doucs in the world (of the very few that exist).

I’m excited about my current opportunity and look forward to providing updates on my work in the future.

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