Among the apes, gibbons are the best representatives of true love.
Gibbons are unique among all our nearest kin in that they are monogamous (or nearly so, anyway). Although we are gradually learning more about the variety of social behavior seen in wild primates, same-sex adult gibbons generally do not tolerate each other’s close presence.
That makes it difficult for gibbons to live in groups larger than a nuclear family, with mom and dad and their immature offspring. Occasionally we hear of attempts in captivity to put same-sex adult gibbons together (say, in a zoo exhibit), but this usually leads to fighting.
Among anthropologists, the theory is that you can deduce something about the mating system of a primate species by looking at the degree of sexual dimorphism (the physical differences between the sexes). The general idea is that if males have to compete with each other for access to mates, they will have evolved to be larger than females. This is the case in gorillas, for instance, where the males compete to be the one silverback who gets to mate with all the females in his group. Gorilla males are about twice the size of females.
But in gibbons, males and females are about the same body size and are both equipped with fierce-looking canines. In the wild, they are territorial, and both males and females are involved in defense of their home turf.
Here at the IPPL sanctuary, we are fortunate to have many loving gibbon couples. (Though, between you and me, Jade has been known to give the glad eye to neighboring males on occasion, despite the fact that her long-suffering mate Palu-Palu is a totally adorable little fellow….)
It’s so sweet to watch a pair of gibbons groom or gently play-wrestle together. Valentine’s Day, or any day!
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