White-handed gibbons extinct in China

15 May 2008 General News

A scientific team, consisting of members of the Gibbon Conservation Alliance based
at Zurich University and the Kunming Institute of Zoology, as well as staff members
of the Nangunhe National Nature Reserve, carried out a survey in all Chinese forests
reported to support white-handed gibbons (Hylobates lar) during the last 20 years.
The species was last observed in 1988 in the Nangunhe Nature Reserve in southwestern
Yunnan province, and their loud, melodious calls were last heard in 1992.
After two weeks of field work, the 14 member Swiss-Chinese team realized: As a
result of continued forest destruction, fragmentation and deterioration, as well as
hunting, this gibbon species is no longer part of the Chinese fauna.
"This loss is particularly tragic", says anthropologist Thomas Geissmann, "because
the extinct Chinese population was described as a distinct subspecies, the so-called
Yunnan white-handed gibbon." This subspecies (Hylobates lar yunnanensis) is not
known from any other place. Geissmann now hopes, that the subspecies may have
survived in neighbouring Myanmar, but so far, he has no evidence for this.
"The extinction of the Chinese white-handed gibbons is an urgent alarm signal,
because several other ape species in Chinas are also endangered by extinction", says
Geissmann. For instance the white-cheeked crested gibbon (Nomascus leucogenys)
has not been sighted in China since the 1980s. Of the Cao-Vit crested gibbon (N.
nasutus) in the provinces Guangxi (China) and Cao Bang (Vietnam) there are less
than 50 individuals, and of the Hainan crested gibbon (N. hainanus) on the South-
Chinese island of Hainan less than 20 individuals, to mention just the two most
endangered species. Therefore, the scientists warn that the loss of the Yunnan whitehanded
gibbons may only be the beginning of an unprecedented wave of extinctions
which threatens to terminate most, if not all, Chinese ape species.
"We hope that our research results will alarm the Chinese government as well as
international conservation agencies and encourage them to initiate immediate efforts
to save China's last surviving apes", says Geissmann.
Zurich University
unicom Media
Photo 1. White-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar)
Zurich University
unicom Media
Photo 2. A survey team building a campsite in the forest of the Nangunhe Nature
Photo 3. Much of the gibbons' natural habitat in the Nangunhe Nature Reserve has
been converted to farmland or, as a result of former shifting cultivation, has now
become secondary forest that cannot support gibbons.
Zurich University
unicom Media
Thomas Geissmann, Anthropological Institute, Zurich University, Switzerland
Phone: +41-44-635 54 13 or +41-44-635 54 11
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Zurich University
lic. phil. Beat Müller
Media agent
Schönberggasse 15A, 8001 Zurich, Switzerland
+41 44 634 44 32
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