Hainan gibbon conservation

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


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 about 25 remaining.

The last surviving population is restricted to a single forest patch in Bawangling National Nature Reserve on Hainan Island, China, with populations across the rest of the island probably extinct for more than 20 years. 

Why we are there

Long-term recovery will require effective conservation of the last surviving gibbon population, and population growth and range expansion to recover its former geographic distribution. As has been the case for other species of extreme rarity, long-term recovery of the Hainan gibbon is likely to require intensive, carefully planned and co-ordinated conservation management.

The Bawangling population has apparently fluctuated below about 25 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 in 2014. 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 helping to establish a more robust evidence-base on the environmental knowledge and needs of local communities around Bawangling, and investigating the possibility of gibbon survival in other remote forest regions across Hainan.

Key Species
Hainan gibbon (Nomascus hainanus)
Only 25 individuals remain of this Critically Endangered species

People involved
ZSL’s Hainan gibbon conservation programme is co-ordinated by Dr Samuel Turvey, and employs two full-time staff: Heidi Ma (project manager), and Dr Jessica Bryant (scientific researcher)

Partners & Sponsors
•    Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden
•    Fauna and Flora International (China Programme)
•    IUCN China Primate Specialist Group
•    Hainan Bawangling National Nature Reserve Management Office

•    Arcus Foundation
•    Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund
•    European Association of Zoos and Aquaria

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)