Tracking China's Rare Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey

In the Shennongjia Nature Reserve, a vast, middle-of-nowhere, protected reserve in China's Hubei Province near the Wudang Mountains, we tracked one of China's most extraordinary and rare animals.

No, not the panda, but a blue-faced monkey with a golden brown coat and no nose.

Credit: Karson Yiu/ABC

The golden snub-nosed monkey is unique to China and is seldom seen, but was captured on film by National Geographic for its television series, "Wild China," a three-part special that premieres on Sunday.

The monkeys are so elusive that a lot is not known about them. Even their population numbers aren't fully known.

China is fiercely protective of the monkeys. No zoo outside of China has ever kept one permanently, although they have been on loan. "Nightline" was lucky enough to be allowed to track the golden snub-nosed monkey with a guide.

Their home in China's mountains is largely wild, but still protected - just in time, some say. Massive deforestation in China forced golden snub-nosed monkeys into higher altitudes where freezing temperatures killed many of them. The monkey's missing nose is possibly the result of an evolutionary trait developed to survive frostbite.

Credit: Karson Yiu/ABC

They were also hunted for their bones because it was believed in Chinese medicine that they warded off rheumatism.

The Chinese government outlawed hunting them in 1975 and created reserves like Shennongjia to safeguard against making them extinct, but their protectors say more conservation efforts could be put in place to save their populations. Females only have one baby every two to three years.

With our guide, we first saw a powerful, adult male, which crossed our path and greeted us by opening his jaws and hissing. But then he seemed to relax, even yawned, before ambling away. Soon, we came across an entire clan.

Watch what happens when ABC News' Gloria Riviera, producer Karson Yiu and cameraman Gamay Palacios climb high into the hills of the Shennongjia Nature Reserve and come face-to-face with the golden snub-nosed monkeys. Click here.