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The Government of Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) has taken a further step in demonstrating its commitment to protecting globally important biodiversity with the launch of a national action plan for the conservation of gibbons.
Gibbons are under considerable threat. They are often restricted to isolated patches of forest within regions also home to some of the highest human population densities in the world, namely South-East Asia. What is less known is that Lao PDR is one of the most species-rich countries in the world when it comes to gibbons.
Altogether six species of gibbon are known in Lao PDR, among 17 species globally, and the country offers the best chance for long-term survival for at least two of them. Of particular significance are the crested gibbons, of which there are four species in Lao PDR. The most endangered genus of gibbons, the crested gibbons are found almost exclusively east of the Mekong River, as well as in Cambodia, China and Vietnam.
Formally launched in Vientiane in July, the National Gibbon Conservation Action Plan is a major step towards improving the status of gibbons in Lao PDR.
Late last year and early into 2011, a technical working group of representatives of government departments, the National University of Laos, scientists and non-governmental organisations outlined the steps to improve the outlook and status of each of the gibbon species. The aim is to achieve a goal by 2020, with gibbon populations in priority areas fully protected. Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have been coordinating preparation of the action plan with the Division of Forest Resource Conservation within the Department of Forestry.
Achieving this goal is a considerable challenge within a climate of rapid economic development and natural resource depletion in Lao PDR. The priority for meeting that challenge is to seriously tackle the issue of hunting.
Even where there is forest degradation, Lao PDR remains blessed with vaster areas of intact forest – more than most of its immediate neighbours. Hunting therefore remains the main threat to gibbons. Yet hunting is often opportunistic – as gibbons have relatively little economic value – and deliberate, as gibbons, being arboreal, do not accidentally get caught by traps on the ground.
A combination of improved enforcement and raised awareness are imperative to protecting gibbons in Lao PDR. Already though, there is a traditional appreciation of gibbons in country, among rural communities, for several reasons, including enjoyment of their entrancing calls or common beliefs that gibbons are manifestations of spirits in the forest.
To achieve the goal of the gibbon conservation action plan, priority locations have been identified for each gibbon species. At some of these locations, gibbons have been receiving attention already to ensure their long-term protection. It is hoped that approval of this action plan will lead to greater support for gibbon conservation at all priority sites throughout the country so improving the chances of survival of some of the world’s most endangered primates, while benefitting more of Lao PDR’s unique biodiversity.
As noted by the Deputy Director-General of the Department of Forestry, Mr Khamphanh Nanthavong, “Lao PDR has a good opportunity now for retaining its diversity of gibbon species while maintaining them as a resource for future development of the country.”
Given sufficient support and interest, the goal of the National Gibbon Conservation Action Plan for Lao PDR is achievable.
❝Achieving this goal is a considerable challenge within a climate of rapid economic development and natural resource depletion in Lao PDR. The priority for meeting that challenge is to seriously tackle the issue of hunting.❞