Conservationists around the world are hoping that the Year of the Monkey will put the spotlight on the threat to primates worldwide and especially in Asia. Primate populations in Asia and particularly China are coming under increasing pressure from humans who hunt them for food, traditional medicine, for the pet trade and are destroying their natural habitat.

World renowned primatologist, Dr Jane Goodall said she hoped the Year of the Monkey would bring the species luck. "I think it's going to be a very lucky year for all of us who care about monkeys, apes, primates and animals in general but particularly the primates. And I hope it will be a year where we can really draw attention to the wonderful monkeys and apes of China and the rest of Asia because they badly need our help and we really need to step up conservation. And what better time to do it than the Year of the Monkey. So sending best wishes from Gombe from me, the baboons, monkeys and chimps," she said speaking from Gombe, Tanzania.

China is home to the rarest primate on the planet, the Hainan Gibbon, which only lives in a small patch of forest on the island. Since the 1980s, numbers have not exceed 30 individual monkeys, dropping to a record low of 13 in 2003.

In conjunction with the Jane Goodall Foundation, Hong Kong's Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden is trying to spread the message of conservation in the former British colony as well as mainland China. Head of Kadoorie Conservation, China, Dr Bosco Chan said attitudes towards monkeys in Asia had to change but he was heartened by China's online community which has been very active in the past weeks in posting about the plight of monkeys.

"There are two major threats as most of us will know. Our tendency to treat them as food as well as medicine, the other is habitat loss. We are cutting down a lot of forest in this region. So this is of a very big concern because Asia, especially China actually, is super rich in primate diversity," he said, adding that regional governments were doing a lot more in terms of conservation.

At Hong Kong's Ocean Park, their aim was also to educate the public about endangered wildlife. In an enclosure next to the world's oldest panda, three Golden Snub-nosed Monkeys delighted visitors with their antics. There are believed to be less than 20,000 of the endangered species, found in the mountains of central and south-west China, left in the wild.

In an example of how sensitive the monkeys can be, one of the three monkeys died from heart failure, Ocean Park told local media on 5 February after it was anaesthetised for a medical check-up. Ocean Park hopes to preserve the species by being part of a breeding programme initiated by the Chinese government in zoos in China and other parts of Asia. The park is also home to several pygmy marmosets, the smallest monkeys in the world, which are not listed as endangered.