"Long before it's in the papers"
May 20, 2015


New action plan to save rarest ape

May 20, 2015
Courtesy of the Zoological Society of London
and World Science staff

A new re­port out­lines steps needed to save the Hai­nan gib­bon, a crit­ic­ally en­dan­gered an­i­mal that ex­perts call the world’s rar­est pri­mate and po­ten­tially the first to be wiped out by hu­man ac­ti­vity.

An in­tern­ati­onal team of more than 100 sci­en­tists, pol­i­cy­makers and com­mun­ity rep­re­sen­ta­tives, led by in­tern­ati­onal con­serv­ati­on char­ity the Zo­o­log­i­cal So­ci­e­ty of Lon­don, pub­lished the re­port on May 19. 

Hainan gibbons (courtesy ZSL)

Only 25 in­di­vid­u­als re­main in less than 20 square km (8 square miles) of for­est in Chi­na’s Hai­nan Is­land, af­ter hunt­ing, log­ging and rub­ber plant­ati­ons killed or dis­placed most of them, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. 

That re­maining popul­ati­on con­tains three so­cial groups, in which males and females sing duets with each oth­er at dawn as they have al­ways been known to do, ac­cord­ing to the re­port au­thors. 

Ex­perts hope the re­port will gal­va­nize and en­cour­age au­thor­i­ties and com­mun­i­ties to take ac­ti­on.

“En­sur­ing a fu­ture for the Hai­nan gib­bon is one of the most im­por­tant glob­al pri­or­i­ties in mam­mal con­serv­ati­on. If the right steps are car­ried out now, it’s not too late to save this in­cred­i­ble spe­cies. I hope that the Hai­nan gib­bon will be used in the fu­ture as an ex­am­ple of a con­serv­ati­on suc­cess sto­ry,” said Sam­u­el Tur­vey, sen­ior re­search fel­low at the so­ci­e­ty, who co-chaired an in­tern­ati­onal con­serv­ati­on plan­ning meet­ing in Hai­nan that pro­duced the re­port.

The re­port iden­ti­fied over 40 key ac­ti­ons needed to boost gib­bon num­bers and en­sure their long-term sur­viv­al, in­clud­ing en­hanc­ing mon­i­tor­ing sys­tems to keep track of re­maining in­di­vid­u­als, cre­at­ing can­o­py bridg­es be­tween for­est frag­ments to ex­pand their hab­i­tat range, and lim­it­ing dis­turb­ance by peo­ple in for­ested ar­eas.

“The Hai­nan gib­bon is an in­di­ca­tor of good for­est health and ec­o­log­i­cal sta­bil­ity, and so pro­tect­ing the spe­cies al­so helps to con­serve Hai­nan’s en­vi­ron­ment and its in­tern­ati­onal green im­age,” said Long Yong­cheng, head of the Chi­na Pri­mate Spe­cial­ist Group at the In­tern­ati­onal Un­ion for Con­serv­ati­on of Na­ture, based in Gland, Switz­er­land.

There were more than 2,000 Hai­nan gib­bons in the 1950s, ac­cord­ing to the Zo­o­log­i­cal So­ci­e­ty. Dur­ing the late 20th cen­tu­ry their num­bers were dev­as­tat­ed by hunt­ing and the loss of their for­est hab­i­tat for log­ging and rub­ber plant­ati­ons. Only about 30 gib­bons re­mained in the 1980s. 

While Chin­ese law now pro­tects both the gib­bons and their hab­i­tat, they are still po­ten­tially threat­ened by hu­man dis­turb­ance, and by a lack of con­nect­ed for­est hab­i­tat to al­low expansi­on of their popul­ati­on, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. A ty­phoon or dis­ease out­break could al­so wipe out the en­tire ti­ny popul­ati­on.

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A new report outlines steps needed to save the Hainan gibbon, a critically endangered animal that experts call the world’s rarest primate and potentially the first to be wiped out by human activity. An international team of more than 100 scientists, policy makers and community representatives, led by international conservation charity the Zoological Society of London, published the report on May 19. Only 25 individuals remain in less than 20 square km (8 square miles) of forest in China’s Hainan Island, after logging and rubber plantations destroyed most of their habitat, according to the report. That remaining population contains three social groups, in which male and female gibbons sing duets with each other at dawn as they always have always been known to do, according to the report authors. Experts hope the report will galvanize and encourage authorities and communities to take action. “Ensuring a future for the Hainan gibbon is one of the most important global priorities in mammal conservation. If the right steps are carried out now, it’s not too late to save this incredible species. I hope that the Hainan gibbon will be used in the future as an example of a conservation success story,” said Samuel Turvey, Senior Research Fellow at the society, who co-chaired an international conservation planning meeting in Hainan that produced the report. The report identified over 40 key actions needed to boost gibbon numbers and ensure their long-term survival, including enhancing monitoring systems to keep track of remaining individuals, creating canopy bridges between forest fragments to expand their habitat range, and limiting disturbance by people in forested areas. “The Hainan gibbon is an indicator of good forest health and ecological stability, and so protecting the species also helps to conserve Hainan’s environment and its international green image,” said Long Yongcheng, head of the China Primate Specialist Group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, based in Gland, Switzerland. There were more than 2,000 Hainan gibbons in the 1950s, according to the Zoological Society. During the late 20th century their numbers were devastated by hunting and the loss of their forest habitat for logging and rubber plantations. Only about 30 gibbons remained in the 1980s. While Chinese law now protects both the gibbons and their habitat, they are still potentially threatened by human disturbance, and by a lack of connected forest habitat to allow expansion of their population, according to the report. A typhoon or disease outbreak could also wipe out the entire tiny population.