Encouraging news from China’s cao vit gibbon conservation project

In the dense karst forest of Bangliang Nature Reserve, a tiny and vulnerable cao vit gibbon is born.

Covered with soft, black fur to protect it from the freezing wind, it clings tightly to its mother’s belly, where it will stay until it is old enough to move around the forest by itself.

This is the third infant to be born in the nature reserve this season, to two of China’s three remaining cao vit gibbon groups.

With only around 110 individuals left in the wild, and classified by the IUCN as Critically Endangered, the cao vit gibbon is one of the world’s rarest apes (second only to its closest relative, the Hainan gibbon).

Restricted to the remote mountainous forests on the border between China and Vietnam, very little is known about this species. For this reason, its conservation requires a special level of commitment on the part of the scientists who have been monitoring these animals in difficult conditions since 2007.

It is therefore easy to imagine the sense of elation they felt when word spread about the birth of several new infants this year.

A baby cao vit gibbon learns to search for food (photo credit Zhao Chao / FFI)

The recovery and growth of cao vit gibbon populations is proving a slow process due to its extremely low numbers.

What’s more its reproductive rate is low (with each female giving birth to only one infant every three years), and infant mortality is fairly high. In China for example, only seven infants have been born since 2007 – two of which died during a cold snap.

Fortunately, with support from all sides (including the Jingxi County government, the Forestry Department and local communities), the 6,500 hectare Bangliang Nature Reserve was established in 2009.

At a single stroke, this quadrupled the amount of protected forest for the cao vit gibbon, in which they can thrive without human disturbance.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and its partners were instrumental in the creation of this nature reserve, which is directly adjacent to Vietnam’s Cao Vit Gibbon Conservation Area, which FFI helped to establish in 2007.

Today, FFI’s cao vit conservation work includes training and education for reserve staff, communities and local government, as well as scientific research and monitoring.

The arrival of three new infants indicates that this work may be paying off, with similar reports from across the border in Vietnam.