Gibbons are breathtakingly acrobatic primates. As anyone fortunate enough to have woken to their haunting calls or witnessed the stunning spectacle of their high-speed swinging through the treetops will agree, an encounter with these charismatic canopy dwellers is a real highlight of a visit to the Southeast Asia forests that they call home.
They belong to the branch of primates known as lesser apes – partly due to the fact they don’t use tools and are considered less intelligent than chimpanzees and other great apes such as orang-utans.
Gibbons usually pair for life and live in very small family groups. They defend their territories mainly by singing. The dawn duets between male and female gibbons are one of the most evocative sounds of the forest. Many gibbon species – including the cao vit gibbon – are sexually dimorphic, meaning that males and females are different colours.
Although their preferred method of locomotion is swinging from branch to branch by their arms – known as brachiation – they can also walk or run along thicker branches, using their long arms to balance like a tightrope walker.
The cao vit gibbon, also known as the eastern black crested gibbon, was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered by FFI Vietnamese scientists in 2002. It is one of the most endangered primates in the world, clinging to survival by its hooked fingertips in a small, fragmented forest on the border between Vietnam and China.