Hainan Gibbon: Record numbers of world’s rarest primate

The discovery of a fifth family group of the world’s rarest primate offers hope for the endangered species.

The primate formed the new family group outside its last refuge in a patch of forest on China’s Hainan Island, according to a report published in Oryx.

This is the second piece of good news this year from Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (KFBG) and Hainan Wildlife Conservation and Management Bureau.

In January, results of the latest Hainan Gibbon population census, reported that the population of Hainan Gibbon increased to more than 30, up from the record low of less than 10 in the 1970s.

Despite an estimated 2,000 Hainan Gibbons living in tropical forests in 12 countries in the 1950s, habitat loss and rampant poaching almost drove the species to extinction.

Since then, the risk of inbreeding due to their small population size, and human disturbances have also put their species in danger.

Hainan Gibbon males are jet black with a hairy crest, while adult females are golden yellow with a black crown. (Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden)

In the 1970s, the primary forest of Hainan Bawangling National Nature Reserve (Bawangling) became the safe haven for what was the species’ last members.

Through the joint efforts of KFBG and Bawangling since 2003, the species appears to be pushing away from the grips of extinction.

Philip Lo, senior conservation officer at KFBG in charge of Hainan Gibbon’s conservation project, said that through “concerted efforts” a fourth family group was able to form in 2015.

He added: “Our key conservation measures include[d] funding and training two gibbon monitoring teams, sponsoring researchers to study the species, conducting annual population census, planting the species’ favourite native food trees produced by a local nursery, promoting sustainable agriculture and conducting awareness raising activities amongst the local community.”

While the emergence of the fifth family group is promising signs for these Hainan Gibbons, they are the only species assessed by the IUCN Red List to have a stable population – all other 18 species, that exist around the world, from India to Borneo, are set to be declining in numbers.

Gibbons form family groups consisting of one male, two females and their young offspring.

They are famous for singing duets at dawn to mark their territories and enhance bonding.

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