The lunar calendar may have just ushered in the Year of the Sheep, but according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2015 is actually the International Year of the Gibbon. And it’s not a moment too soon.
If you include the larger-bodied but closely-related siamangs, as many as 19 species of gibbons have been identified so far. For some mysterious reason, there are many more species of gibbons than there are of any other apes: just compare them with orangutans (two), gorillas (two), chimpanzees (one), and bonobos (one).
But don’t let that big number fool you. The status of many of these 19 species in the wild ranges all the way from unknown to dire.
Gibbons are not only the rarest of the apes, they are the rarest of the primates. There are only maybe 100 Cao Vit gibbons left, and there are only a couple dozen individual Hainan gibbons remaining on the planet. That means the next primate species to go extinct will likely be a gibbon.
Gibbons are small-bodied (about 12 to 20 pounds) and fast (they can reportedly brachiate through the canopy at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour). They are most at home in the treetops, seldom coming to ground. Their agility makes them very difficult to track in their native habitat. As a result, there are many details about their ecology and behavior in the wild that we simply don’t know.
Most of the gibbons at the IPPL Headquarters Sanctuary are white-handed gibbons (Hylobates lar). This species is thought to be among the less threatened of the gibbons, with thousands of these apes spread across parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and southern China. But the number of animals actually remaining in the wild is… unknown.
Gibbons are full of mysteries!
But if you’re interested in learning more about the work of some of our favorite people who are trying to protect the world’s gibbons, check out the following links:
- Kalaweit (Indonesia): specializing in the care of rescued gibbons and siamangs
- Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand (Thailand): caring for gibbons and many other kinds of wildlife
- Highland Farm Sanctuary (Thailand): a remote sanctuary for gibbons and monkeys
- Endangered Primate Rescue Center (Vietnam): home to rare gibbons and other primates native to Vietnam
- SVAA/HURO Programme (India): a hoolock gibbon rescue program in Assam
- Silvery Gibbon Project (Australia/Indonesia): specializing in the rescue and care of Javan gibbons
- Gibbon Conservation Alliance (Switzerland): a network of gibbon conservation projects
- Talkin’ Monkeys Project (Florida): a gibbon sanctuary and outreach program
- Gibbon Conservation Center (California): caring for many species of rare gibbons
- Thomas Geissmann’s Gibbon Web sites: gibbon natural history and vocalization studies
(Did we miss a group you like? Let us know!)