Goodbye to Our Dear Tong

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We have some very sad news to share with you. Our dear Tong Gibbon died on September 29, 2020 at the age of 50.

As a baby, Tong was purchased at a market in Cambodia by a man working for Air America, a CIA operation which flew planes on bombing missions over Laos and Cambodia. The pilot then brought her to his home in Bangkok to keep as a pet. When he was returning from Thailand to the US, he was caught at Chiang Mai Airport in Northern Thailand. Thai authorities allowed him to board his plane, but let his servants take Tong with them. After a few weeks, the servants got a job with Ann Williams, the First Secretary of the Australian Embassy in Bangkok. She allowed them to keep the little gibbon in the servants’ quarters and became involved with her care.

I (Shirley McGreal) had written article about gibbons for the Sawaddi magazine (“Sawaddi” means “Hello” in Thai). Ann sent her driver to get a copy. We ended up meeting and became friends. Ann thought she would be in Thailand for many years, but she was soon transferred to the US Embassy in Rangoon, Burma. She asked us if we would adopt Tong, which we did. This was in 1974. Tong made the trip to Summerville and has lived happily at our sanctuary since then.

Tong had two partners, Brownie and, more recently, Gibby, who is now an amazing 60 years old. Several weeks ago, Tong fell ill with pancreatitis. Despite the efforts of our veterinarian Dr. John Ohlandt and several specialists, she left us on 29 September. She was buried in our lovely gibbon graveyard.

Tong was unique. She belonged to a different species than the 31 other gibbons at IPPL. She was a Gabriella gibbon and her colors, and her voice were completely different from the other gibbons here. She was born gold, then turned black at around one year of age. Then, at five years of age, she gradually turned gold with a black cap. Her songs ended with a trill which made her the star of the gibbon choir. Male gibbons do not sing like the females. The other IPPL gibbons’ calls end with a series of loud rising calls followed by a falling call.

Tong was the last of the four gibbons I brought back from Thailand so many years ago. Her presence is already missed but the memories of this special little gibbon will remain forever.

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