Monday, 30 November 2015

World's rarest ape is teetering on the edge of extinction

A new count suggests there are only 26 Hainan gibbons left in China’s rainforests – is it too late to save them?

By Melissa Hogenboom
27 November 2015

It's not a great title to carry. Being the rarest of anything indicates that you may well soon disappear altogether.

On first sight, prospects do look grim for the Hainan gibbon (Nomascus hainanus). These apes are not only the rarest primate in the world, they are the rarest mammal alive today.

Half a century ago we didn't know much about the Hainan gibbon

There are thought to be as few as 26 individuals remaining, and they all live in a small part of the rainforest in China's Hainan province, an island off the coast of southern China.

Although protected, their habitat shows sign of gradual decline as locals scour the forest for edible or medicinal plants, occasionally hunting the other animals that share the gibbons’ environment. 

Half a century ago we didn't know much about the Hainan gibbon. There were about 2,000 individuals at that point, but it wasn’t clear whether they actually constituted a unique species. By the time we learned that they do, over-hunting and logging in their forests had reduced their numbers dramatically. But new insights into their lives may yet help save this rare, beautiful ape.

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