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Cao vit gibbon. © Ryan Deboodt

Cao vit gibbon. © Ryan Deboodt

Cao vit gibbon

King of the swingers

Species

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 gorillas and orang-utans.

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.

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.

The cao vit gibbon, also known as the eastern black crested gibbon, was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered by Fauna & Flora Vietnamese scientists in 2002. It is widely regarded as the second most endangered ape in the world, clinging to survival by its hooked fingertips in a small, fragmented forest on the border between Vietnam and China.

Fascinating facts about cao vit gibbons

    Like the cuckoo, the cao vit gibbon is named after its call.

     

    Group of eight cao vit gibbons (Nomascus nasutus) in rainforest tree, Vietnam. © Nguyen Duc Tho / Fauna & Flora

    Group of eight cao vit gibbons (Nomascus nasutus) in rainforest tree, Vietnam. © Nguyen Duc Tho / Fauna & Flora

    Male and female cao vit gibbons can be distinguished by their fur colour, which is black and buffish-yellow respectively.

    74

    The estimated number of cao vit gibbons surviving in the wild.

    Cao vit gibbon in tree canopy. © Hoang Vang Tuan / Fauna & Flora

    Cao vit gibbon in tree canopy. © Hoang Vang Tuan / Fauna & Flora

    Gibbons have the longest arms of any primate, relative to body size.

    34 mph

    The speed at which gibbons can swing through the treetops.

Male cao vit gibbon. © Hoang Vang Tuan / Fauna & Flora

Male cao vit gibbon. © Hoang Vang Tuan / Fauna & Flora

A male cao vit gibbon.

What are the main threats to the cao vit gibbon?

Unfortunately, remorseless hunting and widespread habitat loss have left many of the world’s 18 gibbon species precariously close to extinction, and the cao vit gibbon is no exception. Its entire global population is believed to be confined to a single location on the border between Vietnam and China.

Like other gibbons, it is a target for hunters, but the most serious threat to its survival is habitat loss and degradation as a result of firewood collection and livestock grazing.

Many of the forest landscapes where Fauna & Flora works in Southeast Asia support important populations of gibbons. Vietnam is the global stronghold for the so-called crested gibbons, harbouring six of the world’s seven species.

One of the most urgent priorities of Fauna & Flora’s Vietnam Programme is to highlight the country’s importance for gibbon conservation and to ensure the survival of the country’s four rarest species – including the cao vit gibbon.

Cao vit gibbon mother with young. © Nguyễn Văn Trường / Fauna & Flora

Cao vit gibbon mother with young. © Nguyễn Văn Trường / Fauna & Flora

Adult female cao vit gibbons are distinguished by their buff-coloured fur, which changes from black as they mature.

How can we help save the cao vit gibbon?

Since rediscovering the cao vit gibbon, Fauna & Flora has been working with local partners to set up community-based patrol groups, secure formal protection for crucial gibbon habitat and reduce threats in the buffer zones that surround this protected area.

We have encouraged and enabled communities to participate actively in the management of their local forest. In 2012, governments in both Vietnam and China signed an agreement to strengthen transboundary cooperation to conserve this threatened and charismatic primate.

Thanks to the combined efforts of Fauna & Flora and our partners, hunting and habitat loss in this particular area have been virtually eliminated, with the result that cao vit gibbon numbers have stabilised. Until recently, the population was thought to comprise an estimated 135 individuals. However, the most recent surveys (which used drones and acoustic monitoring technology to give a more accurate picture of numbers) have revealed that actual numbers are significantly lower and that the original baseline estimate was too high. Just 74 cao vit gibbons are believed to remain in the wild, a dangerously low figure that emphasises the need to redouble our conservation efforts.

A vital facet of our work is to ascertain whether the area of forest that currently harbours the cao vit gibbon can support a growing population. There are signs that gibbon numbers may now have peaked within the confines of their existing forest haven, and Fauna & Flora is now working to secure additional habitat that could accommodate further expansion of the population.

Fauna & Flora staff with community members. © Nguyen Duc Tho / Fauna & Flora

Fauna & Flora staff with community members. © Nguyen Duc Tho / Fauna & Flora

Fauna & Flora staff interview local people about a cao vit gibbon conservation area in Trung Khanh district.

Cao vit gibbon census. © Ryan Deboodt

Cao vit gibbon census. © Ryan Deboodt

Fauna & Flora staff looking for gibbons in rainforest during cao vit gibbon census.

Cao-vit gibbo female with young in rainforest habitat. © Nguyễn Văn Trường / Fauna & Flora

Distress call

The cao vit gibbon’s future is hanging by a thread.

Please help us to protect this astounding acrobat.

Donate today

Cao-vit gibbo female with young in rainforest habitat. © Nguyễn Văn Trường / Fauna & Flora