The Hainan gibbon is the world’s rarest ape, rarest primate, and possibly the 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 35 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.
Protecting the Hainan gibbon - what we're doing
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 at around 20-30 gibbons for several decades, and breeding individuals are currently restricted to only a handful of social groups. Its small population size, lack of consistent population growth, and restricted range threaten its long-term survival.
Gibbon conservation is also dependent on reducing potential conflicts of interest between local communities and gibbons, and on evidence-based decision-making and 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 to understand gibbon habitat requirements and dispersal
- Encourage new gibbon group formation and expansion into good-quality habitat across the wider Bawangling landscape
- Understand the wider status and threats to endemic biodiversity on Hainan
News and Resources
New family group of Hainan gibbons discovered: In June 2015, a new family group of Hainan gibbons was discovered by a team led by ZSL, raising the known population.
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.
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, policymakers and other stakeholders, and identifies over 40 key actions needed to ensure long-term survival.
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, as a visiting researcher in the Institute of Zoology. She analysed previously collected community interview data from Hainan 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.
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.
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 to develop solutions for improving both 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 Chinese-based gibbon conservation organisation Cloud Mountain Conservation.
- Hainan gibbon (Nomascus hainanus)
- Only 35 individuals remain of this Critically Endangered species
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
- IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group’s Section on Small Apes (SSA)
- Hainan Bawangling National Nature Reserve Management Office
- Hainan University
- Sun Yat-sen University
- Cloud Mountain Conservation
- Turvey ST, Ma H, Zhou T, Teng T, Yu C, Archer LJ, Rao X, Dowell SD, Liang W, Liu H. 2022. Local ecological knowledge and regional sighting histories of Hainan peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron katsumatae): pessimism or optimism for a threatened island endemic? Bird Conservation International doi.org/10.1017/S095927092200020X
- Zou Y, Turvey ST, Cui J, Zhang H, Gong W. 2022. Recent recovery of the world’s rarest primate is not directly linked to increasing habitat quality. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 10: 953637.
- Ma H, Papworth SK, Qian J, Turvey ST. 2022. The medium over the message: differential knowledge of conservation outreach activities and implications for threatened species. Journal of Environmental Management 310: 114716.
- Qian J, Mills M, Ma H, Turvey ST. 2022. Assessing the effectiveness of public awareness-raising initiatives for the Hainan gibbon Nomascus hainanus. Oryx 56: 249-259.
- Ma H, Papworth SK, Ge T, Wu X, Yu C, Zhang H, Turvey ST. 2021. Local awareness and interpretations of species extinction in a rural Chinese biodiversity hotspot. Frontiers in Conservation Science 2: 689561.
- Dufuorq E, Durbach I, Hansford JP, Hoepfner A, Ma H, Bryant JV, Stender CS, Li W, Liu Z, Chen Q, Zhou Z, Turvey ST. 2021. Automated detection of Hainan gibbon calls for passive acoustic monitoring. Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation 7: 475-487.
- Wang Y, Leader-Williams N, Turvey ST. 2021. Exploitation histories of pangolins and endemic pheasants on Hainan Island, China: baselines and shifting social norms. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 9: 608057.
- Zhang L, Turvey ST, Chapman C, Fan P. 2021. Effects of protected areas on survival of threatened gibbons in China. Conservation Biology 35: 1288-1298.
- Liu H, Ma H, Cheyne SM, Turvey ST. 2020. Recovery hopes for the world’s rarest primate. Science 368: 1074.
- Zhang H, Wang C, Turvey ST, Sun Z, Tan Z, Yang Q, Long W, Wu X, Yang D. 2020. Thermal infrared imaging from drones can detect individuals and nocturnal behaviour of the world’s rarest primate. Global Ecology and Conservation 23: e01101.
- Turvey ST, Walsh C, Hansford JP, Crees JJ, Bielby J, Duncan C, Hu K, Hudson MA. 2019. Complementarity, completeness and quality of long-term faunal archives in an Asian biodiversity hotspot. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 374: 20190217.
- Turvey ST, Bryant JV, McClune KA. 2018. Differential loss of components of traditional ecological knowledge following a primate extinction event. Royal Society Open Science 5: 172352.
- Bryant JV, Zeng X, Hong X, Chatterjee HJ, Turvey ST. 2017. Spatiotemporal requirements of the Hainan gibbon: does home range constrain recovery of the world’s rarest ape? American Journal of Primatology 79: e22617.
- Turvey ST, Bryant JV, Duncan C, Wong MHG, Guan Z, Fei H, Ma C, Hong X, Nash HC, Chan BPL, Yang X, Fan P. 2017. How many remnant gibbon populations are left on Hainan? Testing the use of local ecological knowledge to detect cryptic threatened primates. American Journal of Primatology 79: e22593.
- Bryant JV, Brulé A, Wong MHG, Hong X, Zhou Z, Han W, Jeffree TE, Turvey ST. 2016. Detection of a new Hainan gibbon (Nomascus hainanus) group using acoustic call playback. International Journal of Primatology 37: 534-547.
- Bryant JV, Gottelli D, Zeng X, Hong X, Chan BPL, Fellowes JR, Zhang Y, Luo J, Durrant C, Geissmann T, Chatterjee HJ, Turvey ST. 2016. Assessing current genetic status of the Hainan gibbon using historical and demographic baselines: implications for conservation management of species of extreme rarity. Molecular Ecology 25: 3540-3556.
- Bryant JV, Olson VA, Chatterjee HJ, Turvey ST. 2015. Identifying environmental versus phylogenetic correlates of behavioural ecology in gibbons: implications for conservation management of the world’s rarest ape. BMC Evolutionary Biology 15: 171.
- Bryant JV, Turvey ST, Wong MHG, Traylor-Holzer K. 2015. Conserving the world's rarest ape: action planning for the Hainan gibbon. Oryx 49: 391-392.