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World’s most endangered primate still losing habitat

 One of the very last Hainan gibbons (Nomascus hainanus), this one is a female. Photo courtesy of: Greenpeace.
One of the very last Hainan gibbons (Nomascus hainanus), this one is a female. Photo courtesy of: Greenpeace.

Just twenty-three Hainan gibbons (Nomascus hainanus) survive in the world. Confined to a single protected area on a lone island, Hainan gibbons are losing their habitat at a steady rate of 20 hectares per day finds a new study by Greenpeace. In all, nearly a quarter of the Critically Endangered lesser ape’s habitat has been lost since 2001.

Researchers employed satellite imagery and field work to document illegal forest destruction on the island, largely for pulp and paper plantations. Although there are laws against such forest destruction, they are not enforced.

“This illegal deforestation comes in response to market demand and disrespect for nature,” Yi Lan, forests campaigner with Greenpeace, said in a press release. “In this case, the local government has the ability to stop the rainforests and the gibbons from disappearing from Hainan.”

There are no Hainan gibbons in captivity. Once widespread across Hainan Island, the nearly two dozen gibbons surviving today are found only in the
Bawangling Nature Reserve on the island’s western side. Just over fifty years ago—before the forests were logged and turned into plantations—scientists believe there were likely 2,000 Hainan gibbons.

Gibbons are known as ‘lesser apes’. A branch of the ape family, gibbons do not have a tail like other ape species, such as gorilla, chimps, orangutans, and ourselves. However, they do share some characteristics, as well, with monkeys. Gibbons almost never touch the ground, instead they forage high in the canopy moving gracefully and incredibly quickly between trees.

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