Two gibbon species extinct in wild in China, research suggests

Just weeks after the IUCN designated the Chinese paddlefish and Yangtze sturgeon extinct in the wild, new research suggests that two species of gibbon native to Yunnan, may also be extinct in the wild, in China at least.

The paper, titled “An Assessment of the Status of China’s Endangered Primates 2022“, stated that over the last 10 years there have been no recorded sightings in China of the Lar gibbon, also known as the white-handed gibbon, or the northern white-cheeked gibbon. 

According to the IUCN, if a comprehensive survey of a species’ historical habitat has been conducted and no evidence of it has been found, it should be classified as extinct in the wild.

The last major survey of the Lar gibbon was conducted in 2007 by Zurich University and the Kunming Institute of Zoology. No sign was found of the gibbon over two weeks of fieldwork in the Nangun River Conservation Area on the border with Myanmar. Questionnaires conducted with local communities suggested its calls had not been heard since before 2000. 

While the Yunnan sub-species of the Lar gibbon may be extinct, populations of other sub-species survive in parts of Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

The northern white-cheeked gibbon had also been endangered for a long time. According to an article published in Caixin this week, a population of about 1,000 existed in the wild in the 1960s. By 2000, that had reduced to just 10. In 2011, researchers from Sun Yat-sen University suggested that only 8 remained, in “semi-reared conditions”. 

“Human activity is the root cause of the current unprecedented rate of [species] loss,” explained Professor Li Baoguo of Northwestern University in Xi’an, including the loss and fragmentation of habitats, pollution, over-exploitation of resources, and climate change.

Professor Li told Guangming Daily that habitat conservation and restoration efforts need to be strengthened, particularly to ensure the integrity of migration routes. He also recommended improving cross-border cooperation on preventing illegal trade and conducting scientific surveys.

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