07/01/2011 12:52 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2011

Denver Zoo Goes To Vietnam In Effort To Conserve Tonkin Snub-Nosed Monkey, Elephants

The Denver Zoo along with colleagues from the University of Colorado and the University of San Diego are taking a trip to Vietnam to foster conservation efforts for Asian elephants and the Tonkin Snub-Nosed monkey.

Asian elephants will be a key part of the zoo's new Asian Tropics exhibit, but don't expect the zoo to bring back any snub-nosed monkeys.

Denver Zoo spokeswoman Tiffany Barnhart told HuffPost that while the monkeys are officially protected in Vietnam, they are still being hunted because "large monkeys have traditionally been a part of the diet of Vietnamese people and their bodies are thought to have medicinal properties." The other growing problem is de-forestation in the region.

Over the summer, the zoo's conservation biology coordinator, Amy Levine, and Director of Public Programs Brad Parks will guide workshops, forest walks and distribute calendars educating local groups of residents about the monkeys and elephants.

According to Fauna and Flora International, a conservation group, there are possibly fewer than 200 snub-nosed monkeys in the world and they are the largest primates living in Vietnam.

The group says it discovered a small group of the monkeys living in a patch of limestone forest known as Khau Ca in the northern Ha Giang province.

They are most noticeable by their clown-like faces: blue-rimmed eyes, thick pink lips, pale faces, and their small up-turned noses.

"Right now the population is so critical that we're just trying to conserve them in the wild," Barnhart said.

The zoo has picked Asia, Barhart explains, because there aren't as many conservation efforts being led there.

Asian elephant numbers have also been going down in the region, and there are only about 70 living in the area today according to a Denver Zoo press release.

The $50 million Asian Tropics exhibit is scheduled to open next spring and will feature leopards, asian elephants, tapirs, rhinos, gibbons and plans to be powered by clean energy.