As the Zoological Society of London has informed the public, the rarest ape in the world is the Hainan gibbon. Not only are they the globe’s rarest ape, they’re also the rarest primate and perhaps the rarest of mammal species in the world.
Back in the 1950s, the Hainan gibbon had a population that was estimated to be about 2,000 strong. However, as of today, conservationists believe that there are roughly 30 left! The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has them officially listed as critically endangered.
The Hainan gibbon is native to a small portion of China’s Hainan island. The only problem is that there was a landslide back in 2015, which was a result of the Typhoon Rammasun, and it ripped a division in the forest. This made it difficult for the primates to travel across the forest in search of food – especially since their native habitat was already facing many other challenges such as deforestation, among other environmental problems.
But now it seems that there could be a simple solution to help these rare primates avoid extinction. Experts believe that a rope bridge could be the answer.
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As scientists studied a group of nine gibbons, they managed to catch a few of these primates using ropes to traverse the gap that once used to be full of trees. That is what sparked the idea to get professional tree climbers to install an artificial rope bridge for the primates to use.
The results have been fascinating. While most of the gibbons will swing across, there are other who will use the bridge like a handrail and will actually walk across it. There was only one instance of a male ape deciding to try his luck leaping across the gap instead of using the rope bridge. And it isn’t just the gibbons that are getting use out of it.
There are other primate species that are also finding that the bridge is quite useful for them to navigate across the gap. Orangutans have been known to use it as well, but this is the first instance of the gibbons using the bridge for crossing the forest gap.
A conservation biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Center for Conservation and Sustainability, Tremaine Gregory, said to National Geographic that there are plenty of different rope bridge designs, but out of all those other ones, this particular one is noteworthy because it was a simple design that was an affordable cost. Additionally, the primates it was designed for seems to have taken quite well to it.
Dr. Bosco Chan explained to BBC News that the rope bridge plays a very crucial part in helping the conservation efforts of the gibbon.
Dr. Chan stated that back in 2003 when the team began working at the reserve, they were only able to find two groups of gibbons totaling 13 members. Since then, the population of gibbons has slowly made a comeback as the scientists did eventually observe the formation of a third and fourth family group in 2011 and then again in 2015.
Dr. Chan added, “At the beginning of 2020, we confirmed the formation of the fifth group, and the world population has bounced back to over 30 individuals. It shows the species is slowly recovering, and we should have hope.”
With such promising results, Dr. Chan stressed the importance of reforestation as an effort to help save the gibbons. In addition, he stated that poaching be controlled, particularly in the lowland rainforst which is the gibbons’ main habitat. He believes that there should be much more monitoring of the gibbon groups in order to prevent further threats to the populations.
The Hong Kong-based Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden has also come together to try and help prevent the extinction of the gibbons.
In order to help others better understand the new rope bridge, the findings were all published in Scientific Reports.
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