ENDANGERED RAINFOREST SPECIES: GIBBONS

White-Cheeked Gibbon. Photo:RogerSmithPix

White-Cheeked Gibbon. Photo:RogerSmithPix

Endangered Apes: The Gibbon

Gibbons—16 species of them—swing by their long arms from tree to rainforest tree throughout southeastern Asia, from northeastern India across southernmost China and south through Malaysia and the islands of Indonesia. They are collectively referred to as “lesser” apes because of their smaller size—most weigh less than 15 pounds (7 kg) and are less than 3 feet (1 meter) tall—as well as their relatively monkey-like appearance.

Unlike any of the other apes, most gibbons are monogamous, with a mated pair and their offspring defending a territory against others of their species. Unfortunately for them, the territorial songs or calls of a gibbon family often betray their location to illegal human market hunters. Also unlike other apes, gibbons don’t build nests to sleep in, but instead rest huddled on branches or in the forks of trees.

Gibbons are able to travel very swiftly through the rainforests by brachiating—swinging from branch to branch by their arms. However, they can suffer an occasional fall, and few of them get through life without sustaining a bone fracture or two.

Most gibbon species are listed by the IUCN as either “Endangered” or “Critically Endangered,” with habitat loss in the form of logging and other types of forest destruction being the main cause. They are also hunted by humans, who sell their body parts for use in folk medicines.

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