Wildlife At Risk (WAR) is a nonprofit in Vietnam that is dedicated to the conservation of that country’s biodiversity and combating the illegal wildlife trade.
They care for about 60 primates at two wildlife rescue centers (one in Ho Chi Minh City and one in Kien Giang province). They have even managed to release some gibbons, lorises, and macaques back to the wild.
Recently they sent us a report on some enrichment that they had just done with the help of grant funding from IPPL. They placed large, round, stainless steel mirrors in the enclosures with some primates that are being cared for by WAR: a pair of yellow-cheeked crested gibbons—the female looks much like our own golden Tong—and one shy langur.
Supposedly gibbons are not consistently capable of mirror self-recognition. This is a standard test for self-awareness and higher consciousness in animals (or, for that matter, in non-verbal humans, like babies). You put a dab of odorless colored paint on an animal’s face and see if the animal is able to use a mirror to examine or pick at the anomalous spot, indicating that they recognize the image in the mirror as their own selves.
Few species other than humans seem able to do this reliably: chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos, elephants, dolphins, and even European magpies are part of the club, but gorillas and gibbons not so much.
But I don’t know…. Gibbons are very territorial, and if one of these gibbons thought there was truly an unfamiliar same-sex adult only inches away, the fur would surely be flying!
WAR also does conservation outreach to schools and helps train law enforcement authorities regarding wildlife trafficking. WAR just helped bring four criminals to justice after they were found guilty (warning: graphic image in link) of slaughtering three langurs in a national park.
IPPL is proud to help support the creative and hardworking people at WAR.