Friday, 19 December 2014

Hainan gibbon ‘clinging on’ with 25 left in China

Scientists say a disease outbreak or typhoon could push world’s rarest ape species towards extinction

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing

Friday 19 December 2014 13.45 GMT

Scientists are racing to save a critically endangered ape species that lives only in the rainforests of southern China’s Hainan island. With 25 known individuals remaining, a disease outbreak or a strong typhoon could “massively impact” the species’s chances of survival, the scientists say.
Samuel Turvey, a senior research fellow at the Zoological Society of London, said the Hainan gibbon was “definitely the world’s rarest ape species, the rarest primate species, and one of the rarest mammal species. They’re kind of clinging on, literally and metaphorically, to patches of forest in the mountains which people haven’t gotten around to cutting down yet.”

He said both the species and its habitat were protected under Chinese law, but “the population is so low now that simply removing the threat isn’t enough … If by chance one or two of them die from disease, or a typhoon, their chance of recovery [would be] massively impacted.”

Turvey added: “The Hainan gibbon can become one of the world’s conservation success stories if everyone works together and the right steps are carried out.”

Hainan is China’s smallest and southernmost province, an island of rainforests, mountains and sandy beaches in the South China Sea. The gibbons – gangly creatures with small black faces and thick beige fur – live in the Bawangling national nature reserve, a 26 sq mile swath of rainforest more than 120 miles from the provincial capital, Haikou.

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