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South East Asia’s crested gibbons facing imminent extinction

26/09/2010 11:06:00

PERILOUSLY RARE: There are only two family groups left of the hainan gibbon. Picture: Bill Bleisch

All seven species could soon be wiped out

September 2010: All seven species of South East Asia's gibbons are now facing extinction, according to world experts, who met at the 23rd congress of the International Primatological Society.

‘The crested gibbons are the most threatened group of primates and all species require urgent attention to save them from extinction,' said Thomas Geissmann, the world-renowned gibbon expert from Zurich University and  Fauna and Flora International (FFI) gibbon adviser.

All seven species of crested gibbons are highly threatened and some are among the world's most endangered mammals. They are found east of the Mekong River in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Vietnam and China. Several species have declined drastically over the past decade due to hunting and habitat loss caused mainly by rapid economic development.

The plight of crested gibbons is exemplified by the world's rarest ape, the Hainan gibbon. There are about 20 individuals remaining in two family groups on China's Hainan Island. The Hainan gibbon's closest relative is the cao vit gibbon, which survives in a patch of forest on the Vietnam - China border and numbers not much more than 100 individuals.

FORTUNES TURNING: The cao vit gibbon,
which still numbers less than 100, seems to
responding to conservation efforts.
Picture: Zhao Chao / FFI
‘Current efforts by FFI appear to be turning round the fortune of the cao vit gibbon at the 11th hour,' said Paul Insua-Cao, FFI China-Indochina Primate Programme Manager.

‘FFI has been championing conservation of several of the world's rarest gibbon species for more than a decade. The organisation is working with local communities and government authorities across the range states of these gibbons to protect them and their habitat.'

In the past FFI's surveys have discovered several previously unknown populations of gibbons across the region, which have led to work to securing those populations for the future.

Gibbon conservation attracts much less funding than that of the great apes such as gorillas and orang-utans. Hence, it is vital that projects are focused on those places with utmost importance for the survival of the species. The efforts of FFI and other like-minded organizations will need continuous investment and support for the foreseeable future to ensure the gibbons' survival.
Gibbons are small, tree-dwelling apes which inhabit tropical and subtropical rainforests in Asia. 

As apes, they are very closely related to humans. They are known as ‘lesser apes' as compared to the ‘great apes' comprising chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orang-utans. 

They travel via ‘brachiation', meaning they swing through the forest canopy. They have the longest arm to body ratio of all primates. 

Gibbons live in small family groups, with males and females mating for life. 

In the wild they defend their territory by performing vocal displays (mainly duets) which carry for up to 1 km. This ‘song' is used for estimating population sizes as the gibbons are hard to spot in the forest canopy. 

The seven species of crested gibbon are all found east of the Mekong River in Lao PDR, Cambodia, Vietnam and southern China. 

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