Hainan gibbon conservation

Hainan gibbon mother and infant. Image (c) Jessica Bryant

Summary

The Hainan gibbon is the world’s rarest ape, rarest primate, and probably rarest mammal species. Once numbering around 2,000 individuals in the 1950s, the Hainan gibbon underwent a severe decline in the late twentieth century due to habitat loss and hunting, and is now one of the most threatened species in the world, with only an estimated 28 individuals remaining.

The last surviving population is restricted to a single forest patch in Bawangling National Nature Reserve on Hainan Island, China. It’s thought that populations across the rest of the island have been extinct for more than 20 years. 

 

Why we are there

As has been the case for other species of extreme rarity, the long-term recovery of the Hainan gibbon is likely to require intensive, carefully planned and co-ordinated conservation management.

The Bawangling population has remained below 30 gibbons for several decades, and breeding individuals are currently restricted to only three social groups. Its small population size, lack of consistent population growth, and restricted range threaten its long-term survival. 

Gibbon conservation is also impacted by conflicts of interest between local communities and gibbons, and a continued lack of effective communication between stakeholders. 

ZSL is committed to long-term involvement in Hainan gibbon conservation, to help develop a more secure future for this Critically Endangered primate. Our work aims to:

  • Help to ensure the continued effective protection of gibbon habitat and enhanced forest connectivity at Bawangling
  • Utilise optimal monitoring methods in order to understand gibbon habitat requirements and dispersal
  • Encourage new gibbon group formation and expansion into good-quality habitat across the wider Bawangling landscape. 


Key Achievements & Goals

ZSL is involved with a series of field-based conservation initiatives for the Hainan gibbon.

The initiatives follow the recommendations of an international conservation planning workshop co-organised by ZSL. Download the report from the workshop here: PDF icon Hainan gibbon workshop report - PDF (7.64 MB)

We are developing new monitoring technologies for the surviving gibbon population, and exploring appropriate methods to reconnect the fragmented Bawangling forest landscape and allow wider gibbon movement and dispersal. We are also investigating the possibility of gibbon survival in other remote forest regions across Hainan.

Through research focusing on social dimensions, we are helping to establish a more robust evidence-base on the ecological knowledge, perceptions of biodiversity loss, and livelihood needs of local communities around Bawangling. This will provide a baseline for developing solutions for improving conservation and human-well being. 

ZSL organised and held a meeting to create an Emergency Response Plan for the Hainan gibbon in September 2016, involving Chinese and international stakeholders and academics. We also completed the Conservation Action Plan for the Hainan gibbon in January 2017, which is built on priority conservation actions identified by attendees at the original workshop. In April 2018, ZSL worked with the IUCN Section on Small Apes, Guangzhou Zoo, and Cloud Mountain Conservation to deliver the Chinese Gibbon Conservation and Population Management Workshop, which for the first time brought together zoos, nature reserves, and international expertise to discuss how ex-situ and in-situ gibbon conservation can complement each other in China. 

ZSL is continuing to build collaborative relationships with research institutions in China, including Hainan University and Hainan Normal University in Haikou, Hainan, and Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, Guangdong, and Chinese-based gibbon conservation organization Cloud Mountain Conservation. 

Key Species

  • Hainan gibbon (Nomascus hainanus)
  • Only 26 individuals remain of this Critically Endangered species

People involved
ZSL’s Hainan gibbon conservation programme is co-ordinated by Prof Samuel Turvey, and supported by Heidi Ma (project coordinator and PhD student), and Carolyn Thompson (PhD student).

Partners & Sponsors
Partners: 

Sponsors: 

  • New family group of Hainan gibbons discovered: A new family group of Hainan gibbons has been discovered by a team led by ZSL, raising the known population to around 28. Read more.
     
  • Hainan gibbon workshop report: The first report outlining the steps needed to save the Hainan gibbon from extinction is published. This represents the work of more than 100 scientists, policy makers and other stakeholders, and identifies over 40 key actions needed to ensure long-term survival. PDF icon Download a PDF of the report (7.64 MB)
     
  • Emergency Response Plan: ZSL organised and held a meeting to create an Emergency Response Plan for the Hainan gibbon in September 2016, involving Chinese and international stakeholders and academics. 
     
  • Conservation Action Plan: ZSL completed the Conservation Action Plan for the Hainan gibbon in January 2017, which is built on priority conservation actions identified by attendees at the 2014 workshop. 
     
  • In March 2017, we hosted Miss Di Zhang, PhD Candidate from Peking University, Beijing, as a visiting researcher in the Institute of Zoology. She analysed previously collected community interview data from Hainan by Dr Sam Turvey’s group and discussed research on protected areas in China, including deforestation in Hainan. Di then continued to the University of Cambridge to present her work at the Student Conference on Conservation Science.