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China Eco Tales: Working with local people, KCC bolsters the future of Hainan Gibbons

Posted Date: Monday 25 January 2016    

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission’s Primate Specialist Group named 2015 the ‘Year of the Gibbon’, with an aim to focus efforts from all sectors of society on better conservation of the long-ignored ‘small apes’ – the gibbons. Since 2003, Kadoorie Conservation China (KCC), a department of KFBG, has been collaborating with Hainan Bawangling National Nature Reserve to conserve the Hainan Gibbon, the world’s most critically endangered primate.

To support IUCN’s appeal and make the International Gibbon Day a memorable one, KCC threw a funfair event at a local school in Qingsong township, which is on the doorstep of the gibbon home range. Together with twenty volunteers from Haikou, the provincial capital of Hainan, and colleagues from other nature reserves, we exchanged facts and knowledge about the Hainan Gibbon and delivered important conservation messages through various games, role-play, murals and video shows. It was a lot of fun; we hope the laughter will translate into actions and villagers will join us in protecting the gibbons.

The funfair was followed by another important gibbon event– the annual Hainan Gibbon population census. This was the 13th such census organized by KCC in order to obtain the most up-to-date information about the gibbons for more specific and focused conservation work. Over 60 people took part in this year’s census, staying in nine base camps in the forest for five days.

Each field day started very early, since the surveyors had to arrive at the listening posts before dawn when the gibbons start to sing. Data including time, direction, distance from the listening posts and types of calls were recorded. By using a method called triangulation, the positions of the gibbons could be located with accuracy. Some were lucky enough to actually see the gibbons, and they took photographs and videos, besides making detailed observations, such as the number of individuals, sex, age class and behaviours of the gibbons.

Hainan Gibbons sing very special songs. The male usually starts the first chorus of the day before dawn. As the intensity and frequency of his calls peak, the female responds with a frenetic loud call. The duet is amazing as it penetrates the thick forest and leaves a long echo for the lucky listeners. Besides serving to advertise their territory, gibbons call to communicate with each other: to flirt with potential mates, or strengthen bonds between pairs.

After over ten years of determined efforts, the number of Hainan Gibbons has increased from 13 individuals in 2003 (in 2 groups plus 2 solitaries), to this year at least 25 individuals in four groups. It’s also the first time in history that four groups of Hainan Gibbons were simultaneously observed in the wild! The continued monitoring and annual census have provided concrete evidence of the gradual increase in Hainan Gibbon’s population, which has now the highest reproduction rate amongst all gibbon species, with infants having nearly a one hundred per cent chance of survival.

What’s next? Empowering the monitoring and enforcement team in terms of policies and finance, increasing outreach work to educate villagers especially children, and promoting alternative livelihoods are key. We believe that with our determined conservation efforts, the Hainan Gibbons will have a bright future!

Fun Facts:
Year of the Monkey is coming, let's learn more about the primate families!





Found in Asia and North Africa

Restricted to tropical/subtropical Asia: from northeastern India to southern China and Indonesia


Family Cercopithecidae

Family Hylobatidae

23 species in genus Macaca

19 species in four genera


Occupy widest range of climates

Live in well-preserved low- to mid-altitude broadleaf forest



More terrestrial

Strictly arboreal - spend whole lives in canopy and rarely descend to ground

Long trunk

Slender body , very long arms, short legs

Have external tail

No external tail

Food and feeding

The majority of the Macaca spp. are frugivores and vegetarian. Some species are omnivorous

Frugivores - feed mainly on ripe, pulpy wild fruits in forest