Saving Black Crested Gibbons
    2013-09-05 15:17:39       Web Editor: Liu Yuanhui


Tang poet Li Bai once wrote, "As I still hear the incessant calling of gibbons from both banks, my boat has passed countless folds of hills."

While the sight of gibbons was quite common during the thousand-year-old Tang dynasty, as we can deduce from the poem, the number of gibbons alive today has dwindled due to deforestation and habitat fragmentation.
Statistics show that there are little more than 1100 to 1400 black crested gibbons in the world, with 90 percent of them living in southwest China's Yunnan Province. Isolated populations can also be found in northern Vietnam and Laos.
On today's program, we will pay a visit to the home of these lovely creatures living in the wilds of Yunnan and investigate how much more still needs to be done to save this endangered species from extinction.
Stay tuned.
(sound of gibbons)
Black-crested gibbons live at elevations above 2,000 meters and once inhabited much of Yunnan. Today, their population is mostly limited to areas in the southwest of the province, namely the Wuliang and Ailao Mountains in Jingdong County. The two national nature reserves in the area are home to over 600 black crested gibbons.
Arboreal species like the black crested gibbons travel mainly through tree-tops, sleeping in high nests and consuming a diet of mostly tree fruits.
The animals grow to around a half-meter in height and weigh seven to 10 kilograms. Females have golden fur and a black crest on their heads, while males are typically all black. Like all apes, they have no tail.
Crested gibbons are famous for their long arms and loud calls, which a gibbon uses to attract a new mate or strengthen the bond with its current mate.
Jiang Xuelong is a primatologist working with the Kunming Institute of Zoology under China's Academy of Sciences. He's researched gibbons in Jingdong for years:
"The crested gibbons are scattered throughout the entire Wuliang Mountains. From the east to west slopes and from south to the north, they can be sighted or heard from time to time."
Jiang recalls that, back in the 1980s, scientists from China and the United States conducted a joint field research project in Wuliang Mountain on the altitudinal ranging, or foraging, and behavior of crested gibbons. The team also examined how food availability, temperature and human disturbance affected the survival of the animal.
The study found that food availability was the driving force behind the altitudinal ranging patterns of the crested gibbons. They spent most of their time foraging in areas between 2,100 and 2,400 meters above sea-level, where nearly 76 percent of important food patches occurred. These gibbons avoided using the area above 2,500 meters, despite a lack of human disturbance there, apparently because there were fewer food resources.
Grazing goats, the gibbons' main competitor for food sources, generally stayed below 2,100 meter above sea-level, which was defined as a high-disturbance area. Gibbons spent less time in the area and, when ranging there, spent more time feeding and traveling and less time resting and calling out.
Jiang Xuelong says they have learnt first-hand that crested gibbons live in groups with a life over 30 years. Walking and jumping on the edge of trees, the slender, yet agile creatures can leap over 10 meters in one jump. Because they are so dexterous while moving through the trees, predators are hard-pressed catch them as prey.
Researchers are amazed by these unique, fascinating animals.

"Crested gibbons are social animals that live with individual family units, just like human beings. In a family, they have a father, mother and children. Monogamy and polygamy both exist in gibbon societies. The apes eat fruits, tender leaves and flowers. Sometimes, they eat small insects and squirrels, as well. Crested gibbons need a complete and primary laurel forest to live in. So, in a sense, to protect crested gibbons is to protect their habitat from damage."
Yunnan forestry authorities have long-instituted the province's first species-specific conservation-action plan to protect the black-crested gibbon.
And as early as 2007, the government of Jingdong County started a partnership with China's Institute of Zoology to build various monitoring stations in the deep of the mountains.
Besides relaying daily observation research, the stations also plant vegetables that crested gibbons mainly eat. They also plant certain species of quick-growing trees to enlarge the habitat of crested gibbons.
Xiong Jinming is an assistant researcher at one such protection station:

"We've planted Chinese magnoliavine, cherry and bitter lotus seeds in our nursery garden: those are all their favorites."
These protection efforts have greatly improved the living condition of Yunnan's crested gibbons. But Liu Changming the deputy director of Jingdong Natural Reserves Administration, warns that more still needs to be done to protect the earth's remaining gibbon populations.

"For now, we are trying to let more people know about crested gibbons and how to protect them. Working with large non-profit groups like Fauna & Flora International and the Nature Conservancy, we are getting more help from international professionals. The main threats to gibbon survival are hunting, agricultural encroachment and misguided forestry practices. The conservation efforts include assessing gibbon populations and designing methods to protect their dwindling numbers."
Western black-crested gibbons are designated as "critically endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This designation indicates that a species has lost or is expected to lose 80 percent of its overall population within three generations.
A single species' disappearance can, in fact, make a huge difference on a global scale. So let's make sure that the beautiful sound of the gibbon won't disappear from the planetˇ­especially not in our generation.
 (gibbons calling)



Conservationists say that there were as many as 100,000 tigers around the world a century ago. Today, there are only about 3,000 in the wild.
The South China Tiger is one of the rarest tiger species in the world. It hasn't been sighted in the wilderness for more than 20 years.
A Chinese woman named Quan Li is among the many who are determined to turn this situation around. Working together with China's Administration of Forestry, Quan is committed to the project of rewilding south China tigers in South Africa, by teaching them how to hunt before bringing them back to the wild in China to become the mountain king again.

"Life in China" recently caught up with Quan Li on the phone.
( conversation with Quan Li, founder of China's Tiger Revival)


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