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Will These Be the First Apes to Go Extinct Thanks to Human Actions?

Will These Be the First Apes to Go Extinct Thanks to Human Actions?

Orangutans are the face for deforestation and habitat loss. It’s difficult not to melt when a homeless orangutan signs how the palm oil industry is destroying its home. According to the Sumatran Orangutan Society, there are around 60,600 wild orangutan left between Borneo and Sumatra.

While we should care about the plight of the orangutan, why isn’t anyone standing up for the last 23 wild Hainan black-crested gibbons? Does the world not care because they aren’t as big or human-like as orangutans?

The World’s Rarest Primate

Deforestation has devastating consequences for the environment, animals and people. While Central America’s narco-deforestation has been making headlines, deforestation in China could mean the end for the last 23 Hainan black-crested gibbons, scientifically known as Nomascus hainanus.

The Scientific American calls Hainan gibbons “the world’s rarest primates.”  And we are letting them disappear before our eyes. According to Scientific American, Greenpeace International discovered that their habitat is disappearing at the rate of 200,000 square meters a day.

A Few Facts

Here are a few facts pulled from an updated 2005 status survey report and conservation action plan, so you can learn a little about the world’s rarest primate:

– They stick to the trees, even though they originally lived in the lowlands. Logging drove them up to the trees.

– Like any good frugivore, they love their fruit.

– They sing ‘songs,’ and mates have been known to sing ‘duets.’

– Their coats will change colors throughout various stages of their lives.

– There aren’t many skins, skeletons, or skulls of them in museums.

– According to the updated 2005 version of the status survey report , no individual Hainan gibbon was kept in captivity.

Illegal Deforestation

While the Hainan gibbons once called the whole Hainan Island home, their current habitat is limited to 2,100 hectares at the Bawangling National Nature Reserve.

The irony is that the Hainan gibbons are supposed to be legally protected. Yet, over the last decade, the government hasn’t enforced their protection status. It’s also turned a blind eye to the exploitative loggers and pulp paper plantation producers that have overtaken the primates’ habitat and 25 percent of Hainan Island’s rainforest.

Unsurprisingly, not all of this activity is legal. Greenpeace International used satellite technology and on the ground work to show how 72,000 acres of the island’s forest has illegally been destroyed for logs or pulp.

As reported in Greenpeace International,  Yi Lan, a Greenpeace forest advocate, explains, how “This illegal deforestation comes in response to market demand and disrespect for nature.” When the equivalent of 27 football fields are being destroyed, Lan expresses how “we humans aren’t being good stewards of the environment.’”

The Decline of Hainan Gibbons

Here’s a brief timeline of the Hainan gibbons’ population from Scientific American:

– During the 1950s, there were approximately 2,000 Hainan gibbons.

– In 1993, there were roughly 60 Hainan gibbons left. While the gibbons had been hunted, the rubber industry contributed to a lot of the lost habitat.

– In 2003, there were only 15 known Hainan gibbons left in the wild. A few of the gibbons did mate and rear offspring.

While there were some successful births, Hainan gibbons only breed once every 2-3 years; the mother will carry and care for her infant for the next couple of years. That’s how there are currently 23 left in the wild.

Groups in the Hainan Island also actively hunted the primates. An updated 2005 status survey report and conservation action plan (that wasn’t fully executed) explain that human groups would hunt the Hainan gibbons and create a medicinal paste from the animal’s whole body. Yet, up to 15 years imprisonment and changing superstitions about hunting a Hainan gibbon bringing bad luck curbed hunting practices.

Legal Loss of Habitat

While illegal activities account for a significant part of the gibbons’ habitat loss, it isn’t always illegal. For instance, legal pulp paper plantations are situated along the banks of the protected reserve areas. The pulp trees require so much moisture that they suck the water from the rest of the native flora — and the Hainan’s last remaining natural habitat. Even the gibbons’ legally protected reserve habitat is in serious danger.

The low population numbers, the concentration of the primates in one area and legal and illegal deforestation practices make the Hainan gibbons extremely vulnerable. One natural catastrophe could be the end of a whole species. As Nature explains, if Hainan gibbons become extinct, then they would have the “unwelcome distinction of being the first ape to be wiped out because of human actions.”

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Photo Credit: Hainan Island, where Hainan black-crested gibbons live, via Wikipedia

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304 comments

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2:13PM PDT on Jul 20, 2014

As a caring human being, we spread ourselves too thin! We cannot save what Evil Big Business tries to destroy for a buck.

3:17AM PDT on Jul 12, 2014

These poor Hainan gibbons need to be put on an endangered list and have the bad guys prosecuted.

12:51PM PDT on May 12, 2014

Greed will always win in the war against wildlife. Just like the ranchers.

6:08PM PDT on May 1, 2014

continued.... those who came before us started and turn things around, so that everyone and everything can live and prosper here on earth.

5:57PM PDT on May 1, 2014

Wealth and greed versus Poverty and need. Everyone suffers. Humans, domestic and wild animals and the environment; whether you are above the poverty line or below it. This is just another sad commentary on what happens when stewardship of our beautiful planet is neglected in the name of selfishness. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer and the first primate in history loses first it's home and then goes extinct.

Until this circle is broken and more of the wealth starts being distributed evenly, so that everyone can enjoy the fruits of our planet without excess and irreversible damage, nothing is going to change. It will continue to get worse until the species responsible for all of this has nothing left to profit from, are dying of unclean water and starvation, and those who had everything that they needed and it was taken away from them, are already dead from starvation, and all of natures wildlife are dying or already extinct.

Perhaps then, Mother Earth will be able to heal herself and those that survive will learn from history and never repeat what happened in the past.

Make a pledge to yourself and to future generations that you will not let this scenario continue or happen in the first place. Win or lose we will go out fighting and, hopefully, leave a legacy of caring and battling for equality for everything and everyone on the planet, and those who heard of us and felt our strength will continue fighting, until they can finish what we, and

1:17PM PDT on Apr 29, 2014

How can we the people in this world who know how important it is... prevent the extinction of wild animals and their habitat? Each and everyday we see a report about another helpless animal. The civilized world as we know it is no better than 2,000 years ago.
Ignorance and greed will be the downfall of this once fruitful and lush planet. One thing is for sure and certain...our numbers have to grow by the millions in this most important endeavor. .share with anyone who has empathy, compassion and concern for earth, a planet that is being ravaged by mankind, the number one predator in the world.

1:12AM PDT on Apr 25, 2014

Thank you for the article

12:44AM PDT on Apr 24, 2014

This is extremely bad - we need to put a stop to extinction

11:48PM PDT on Apr 23, 2014

Its so disappointing reading articles like this, we need every animal weve got! no room for extinction here!

6:48PM PDT on Apr 23, 2014

I certainly hope not. This world would be very sad place without animals in it.

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Beth Buczynski Beth is a freelance writer and editor living in the Rocky Mountain West. So far, Beth has lived in... more
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