Hainan Gibbon Nomascus hainanus (Thomas, 1892)
IUCN Red List: Critically Endangered
CITES: Appendix I
State Key Protected Animal List of China: Class I
About the Species
The Hainan Gibbon is the rarest ape on Earth. It is endemic to Hainan Island and is now only confirmed at a single site, Bawangling National Nature Reserve (BNNR). Over 2,000 individuals were estimated to remain throughout the island in the 1950s, but due to hunting and forest loss, the population declined sharply, to around 30 in 1980s. The population dropped still further, as only two groups and two solitary gibbons, a total of 13 individuals, were confirmed in the first ever comprehensive population census, organised by KFBG in 2003.
The Hainan Gibbon has the largest known home-range and family group size among all gibbon species. In early 2011 one group was confirmed to contain 11 members. The Hainan Gibbon has a stable family structure, with one male mating with two females, whereas most other gibbons are monogamous with only one breeding female.
Kadoorie Conservation China (KCC), a Department of KFBG, has been implementing a multi-pronged conservation action plan to help prevent the extinction of Hainan Gibbon since 2003, when we were invited to convene the first international conservation workshop for the species. To control threats and to build up knowledge of their ecology, selected Bawangling reserve wardens were trained to conduct intensive monitoring of the gibbons. From 2010, local villagers were directly involved in gibbon conservation; a team of community wardens has been recruited, and performs daily patrolling with reserve wardens.
To improve the degraded lowland habitat, over 84,000 fast-growing gibbon food trees, consisting of 51 native species, have been grown in native tree nurseries established with KFBG’s help and planted in 150 hectares of degraded land adjoining the current gibbon home ranges. The seedlings have been nursed for several years and most are growing well. We hope all these conservation interventions help population recovery in the long term.
New ecological agriculture techniques have been introduced to the residents of nearby villages to help them improve their livelihoods, so as to reduce conflicts, such as illegal poaching and tree felling, while conserving the gibbon habitat.
After 12 years of conservation efforts, the population has almost doubled, to at least 25 individuals, including two new gibbon family groups established since 2011. These encouraging improvements give new hope for the species’ survival.
Since 2004, the KFBG studentship programme has supported four PhD and two MPhil research studies on the ecology, home range, population dynamics, habitat restoration and conservation management of the Hainan Gibbon.
A visual retrospect of our Hainan Gibbon conservation project:
The following videos would give you a taste of this amazing primate. These rare footages were taken by our community wardens when conducting their routine patrols.
1. Acrobats of the rainforest: Hainan gibbons have agile fingers and long arms that allow them to brachiate through the forest canopy with ease.
2. Feeding at the treetops: Hainan gibbons feed mainly on ripe fruits and young leaves of tall rainforest trees. Baby gibbons are carried around by their mothers for about a year until weaned.
3. Mesmerising song: Hainan gibbon pairs vocalise to mark their territories and enhance bonding. We would argue they have one of the most musical duets among gibbon species! Hear it for yourself...