Artificial arboreal rope highway to join up fragmented gibbon habitat

Chinese conservationists and researchers have built an arboreal highway by using a rope to span between two areas of a fragmented habitat lived in by the Hainan gibbon. This is the world’s rarest primate. It is also the most critically endangered primate species. Only 30 remain in the forests of Hainan Island which is China’s southernmost point.

Artificial arboreal highway to join up fragmented gibbon habitat
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Artificial arboreal highway to join up fragmented gibbon habitat. Photo: the researchers.

Forest fragmentation thus presents a major conservation challenge for gibbons. – Bosco Pui Lok Chan, head of the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden in Hong Kong’s New Territories.

A landslide divided up their forest by creating a 15 m wide rift. It occurred during a typhoon. The gibbons were frightened to cross the gap in the forest especially young juveniles and adults females. In order to help them, the conservationists constructed a rope between the canopies of the trees which joined each section of their habitat. They fitted cameras to the ropes to monitor whether the gibbons would use it. They began using it after five months. This small group consists of one breeding male, six youngsters and two breeding females.

Comment: the fragmentation of habitat of the wild species is one of the great barriers to thriving populations. Often habitats become fragmented because of human activity such as roads being built, mining, destruction of forest for plantations and the construction of human settlements. A population of 30 seems precariously near extinction level to me for the reason that there will be inbreeding and when there’s inbreeding you get health issues including infertile adults. When that happens extinction will surely come.

The Hainan gibbon lives in broad-leaved forests and semi-deciduous monsoon forests. It eats ripe, sugar-rich fruit such as figs and sometimes they eat leaves and insects. They are classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. They were once widespread in China, distributed across half of the country in the 17th century.

Over the last 100 years there has been a steep decline in their numbers. There were, in the 1950s, more than 2,000 gibbons on Hainan Island. They were distributed over the entire island. The steep decline to an estimated 30 as stated above is primarily due to habitat loss and poaching has also been a problem. Their forest home has been reduced by illegal pulp paper plantation growers. The gibbon would not normally live in this high altitude habitat as they normally live in lowland forests. This exposes them to logging. A single storm or a major epidemic would result in their extinction.

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