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.
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.”