About Gibbons

Gibbon Basics

These endangered, small, arboreal apes are considered to be among the world’s greatest acrobats. They can leap distances of 40 feet at speeds of up to 35 mph while 200 feet above the ground. This swinging from branch to branch is called brachiating. The Eastern black gibbon (Nomascus nasutus) is one of the rarest primates in the wild. The Hainan gibbon (Nomascus hainanus) is the rarest mammal in the world. Gibbons are one of the few serial monogamous primates, and whether on the ground or in the trees, they are known for their dexterity and ability to walk upright. Often referred to as the “songbirds” of the primate family and the most musical land mammal, gibbons can project their voices up to 2 miles through the dense rain forest canopy. Unfortunately, their natural habitat is being destroyed at the alarming rate of 32 acres per minute! This destruction means the disappearance of their melodious songs as well.

Where are gibbons from?
Gibbons are native to the dwindling rain forests of Southeast, South and East Asia. You’ll find gibbons in Thailand, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia (including Sumatra, Java and Borneo).

How do gibbons travel?
Gibbons are “bi-pedal” ---They can walk on 2 legs.

  • Gibbons are the only nonhuman primate that primarily walks on 2 legs.

They “brachiate” --- which means that they can swing from tree branches using their long, strong arms.

  • Gibbon arms are 1.5 times longer than their legs!
  • They have the ability to move swiftly through the treetops at up to 35 mph while 200 feet in the air.

They climb trees and can leap up to distances of 50 feet between trees.

Do gibbons sing?
Yes they do! Gibbons are often referred to as the “songbirds of the primate family.” A gibbon marks its territory by vocalizing (singing) when traveling within the borders of where they live. The adult male and female sing a duet and their offspring will join in. The adult male and female harmonize, but sing a different song. When males are immature they generally sing the song of females.

How far can a gibbons voice travel through the forest canopy?
The siamang sings a song that can be heard up to 2 miles through the dense forest canopy. The siamang is the loudest land mammal on Earth. The siamang has a unique vocal sac that inflates as they sing and produces remarkably loud and deep sounds.

What do gibbons eat?
Gibbons eat fruit, young leaves, flowers, bird eggs, insects and birds. They forage for food in the upper forest canopy.

Can gibbons see in color?
Yes.

Are gibbons monogamous or polygamous?
Gibbons are, for the most part, monogamous (they have only one mate at a time). However, unlike geese or other animals that take only one mate for life, gibbons typically have only one mate “at a time” --- this is called “serial monogamy.” In some situations, however, gibbons are known to take more than one mate at a time, when their primary mate is unaware of their promiscuity.

At what age do gibbons reach sexual maturity in captivity?
Gibbons in captivity become sexually mature at some point between 4.5 – 6.5 years of age.

How long is gestation?
Pregnant females carry their young for approximately 6 months

At what age do gibbons leave their parents to create their own family in their natural habitat?
On average, gibbon offspring leave their parents and begin to create their own families when the females are around 8.5 years old and the males are around 10 years old.

How long does a gibbon live?
The lifespan of a gibbon is roughly 30 - 35 years in the wild or 40 – 50 years in captivity.
The oldest known living gibbon was a 60 year-old male Müller’s gibbon named Nippy, who was housed in the Wellington Zoo in New Zealand. He passed away in 2008.

Species at the GCC

Eastern Hoolock Gibbon

Eastern Hoolock gibbons are endangered in their native habitat of northeast India, Myanmar(Burma) and southern Yunnan, China. This species has 38 chromosones and is known for having a large white brow and goatee.

GCC founder, Alan Mootnick, was involved with the discovery of their subgenus, and is credited with their renaming and elevation to genus level. The name "Hoolock" derives from the onomatopoetics of their song. The coloration of the adult female Hoolock gibbon allows her to blend in with her surroundings.

Plieated Gibbon

The Pileated gibbon is endemic to southeast Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, with only 30,000 left in the wild.

The word "pileated" means capped. Having a dark cap and chest plate assists this species with absorbing heat in the cooler portion of the day. This species is the most sexually dichromatic of all seven species in their genus.

The vocalization of this species is produced with in-breath and out-breath tones. The female's great call is one of the most spectacular vocalizations of all the gibbon species. It is close to impossible for a human to recreate the bubbling sound of the territorial song of the female Pileated gibbon.

Northern White Cheeked Gibbon

The northern white-cheeked gibbon is now extinct in southern Yunnan, China and is nearly extinct in northern Vietnam, and critically endangered in Laos. There are more northern white-cheeked gibbons in North American and European zoos than in the wild in China and northern Vietnam.

There are fewer than 500 northern white-cheeked gibbons left in the wild. This gibbon species is the rarest primate in the wild currently in a successful captive breeding program.

Their genus is known as the crested gibbon, which has 52 chromosones, is sexually dichromatic and has short dense hair.

All six species of crested gibbons are endangered, with numbers in the wild ranging from 20 Hainan gibbons (the world's rarest primate) to approximately 30,000 buff cheeked gibbons.

Javan Gibbon

Also knows as the "silvery gibbon" or "grey gibbon", the Javan gibbon is endemic to Java, Indonesia, where there are fewer than 4,000 left in fragmented forests. It is Indonesia's rarest ape.

The main reason for their decline in Java are loss of habitat and poaching. The Javan gibbon will have a greater chance of survival if corridors are planted to connect existing protected forests, stricter poaching laws are enforced, and the removal of wood from the Javan forests is ceased.

Their genus has 44 chromosones.

Siamang Gibbon

Siamang gibbons are threatened and endemic to central and western peninsular Malaysia, as well as the swamp forests and mountainous regions of Sumatra. Northern Sumatra is the only place where three ape species (Siamang gibbon, Lar gibbon, orangutan) inhabit the same location.

Siamangs are found in most major zoos, and there are approximately 200,000 in their natural habitat.

Although they are common in captivity, we are very fortunate to house Siamangs that are unrelated to other captive Siamangs in the USA.

They are the largest gibbon and considered to be the loudest land mammal. Their throat sack inflates to the size of their head, with songs that can be heard up to 2 miles away.

Siamangs have 50 chromosones. They exhibit unique paternal care not observed in other gibbons. "Symphalangus syndactylus" means webbing of the digits; the Siamang is the only gibbon species in which all individuals have partial webbing of their second and third toes.