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Taronga Zoo has established a breeding pair of rare White-cheeked Gibbons as part of Australasian regional efforts to support the critically endangered primate.

Disturbing news from Asia has revealed that the gibbons are in crisis in the fragmented jungles of Loas, Vietnam and southern China. AS few as 15 viable groups of the gibbons may be all the remains.

Taronga’s gibbons are a male, ‘Kayak’, and a female, ‘Nelly’, originally from Perth Zoo. They are now on display in Taronga’s Rain Forest Trail mega-exhibit which displays a range of Asian wildlife species in naturalistic habitats and are great ambassadors for all species of gibbon that are feeling the threats of human impacts in their environment.  They join existing species of South East Asian apes at Taronga including the Endangered Francois Langur and Müller's Gibbon.

Taronga’s Exotic Fauna Manager, Mandy Everett,  said: “Kayak and Nelly are now a part of our Rainforest Trail which also is home to Francois Langur, Binturong and Asian Elephants. Their specially-designed climbing structures enable them to really show how gibbons move through the trees in the wild.”

“Their colouring is something that is characteristic to this species of Gibbon also, with individuals being born blonde and eventually changing to jet black.  Males will stay this colour for life but females will again turn back to blonde at about six years of age.”

“Being a breeding pair of mature age it is hoped that in the future Nelly and Kayak will be able to contribute to the regional conservation breeding program, ensuring that this has a secured future for generations to come.”

Once abundant, along with many small ape species in South East Asia, the now critically endangered White-cheeked Gibbon has seen the dramatic impact of deforestation and hunting, caused an 80 percent reduction in numbers over the last 45 years. 

As White-cheeked Gibbons are an active tree-dwelling ape, capitalising on their long limbs, enables them to cover some distance looking for food. This is greatly reduced as humans continue to clear vital old growth forests for fuel and timber creating isolated pockets of liveable habitat.

“It’s worrying to think that recent data suggests that White-cheeked Gibbon populations in Vietnam can no longer be sustained on remaining forest patches.  As deforestation starts to encroach on these last remaining habitats, wildlife has nowhere else to go.”

The gibbons can be seen throughout the day but when they start swinging through the complex structures in their exhibit, people are amazed at their acrobatic dexterity including breathtaking leaps and high-speed brachiation which is what primatologists call the way the apes swing from arm to arm through the branches.

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