Most Malaysians can recognise the evocative call of gibbons when they are close to good forest, but few know that there are actually five species of gibbons and that all of them are endangered by habitat loss at the impact of the pet trade. To help nurture a greater sense of sppreciation for these creatures of the high canopy, The Habitat Foundation teamed up with the Malaysian Primatological Society (MPS) organized a virtual event to celebrate International Gibbon Day 2020. The public talk featured Dr. Susan Lappan of Appalachian State University, Lisa Ong, a PhD candidate at University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, and Ethan Pang from THF who did his PhD on gibbons at USM. Aini Hasanah of MPS moderated the session.
Dr Susan Lappan has studied the largest of the small apes, the powerful and jet black Siamang (Symphalangus syndactylus) in Sumatra for 15 years. Like other small apes, siamang live in close-knit family units, usually consisting of a pair-bonded male and female, and a few young. Siamang defend a territory from the intrusion of other siamang groups by duetting loudly. Their calls can carry for over a kilometer.
From the study of seed dispersers in Belum-Temenggor, Lisa Ong’s research has helped to highlight the importance of wild gibbons as seed dispersers in our forest landscape. Gibbons consume mainly fruits and swallow the seed whole in the process, and could bring the seed as far as 1km away from the other tree. This makes them important keystone species of the forest, and vital to health and resilient forest ecosystems.
Ethan Pang had the opportunity to gain insights into the life of the agile gibbons which may be found in Ulu Muda, Kedah. Agile gibbons (Hylobates agilis) have been found to persist in degraded forest, and such forest posses value to be protected.
The Habitat Foundation is supporting the IUCN National Action Plan for the Conservation of Small Apes in Malaysia, being led by MPS. Experts from Malaysia and around the world, local stakeholders, agencies, and NGOs have joined forces to develop a comprehensive action plan to protect gibbons and their habitat in Malaysia. If you have information to contribute, or would like to be involved in the discussions you can find out more by visting www.primatesmalaysia.org.
You can also help contribute data on the abundance and distribution of gibbons, by reporting sightings or hearing their calls to firstname.lastname@example.org to UNGKA – Small Apes of Malaysia Research & Outreach. This is a citizen science data gathering platform that is enlisting the public’s participation in gathering information to help develop more targetted conservation actions.
Keen to learn more? Watch the recorded session on Youtube!