AboutZoos, Since 2008


Meet the new ‘Sky­walker’ gibbon

pub­lished 12 Jan­u­ary 2017 | mod­i­fied 12 Jan­u­ary 2017

Hoolock gibbon tianxing maleAn entirely new species of gib­bon (Pri­mates: Hylo­bati­dae) has been dis­cov­ered liv­ing in the forests of the Gaoligong moun­tains of south­west China, accord­ing to a research team led by Pro­fes­sor Fan Pengfei from Sun Yat-​sen Uni­ver­sity in Guangzhou and includ­ing experts from Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Lon­don (ZSL).

The dis­cov­ery, detailed in a paper pub­lished on 10 Jan­u­ary in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Pri­ma­tol­ogy, describes a new addi­tion to the genus of hoolock gib­bons: already known to include two previously-​described liv­ing species, the west­ern (Hoolock hoolock) and east­ern hoolock (H. leu­conedys) gib­bons, geo­graph­i­cally sep­a­rated by the Chind­win River.

Based on a com­pre­hen­sive study of the genetic char­ac­ter­is­tics of wild gib­bons and museum spec­i­mens, and assess­ment of coat colour pat­terns and tooth mor­phol­ogy, the team believes that the pop­u­la­tion of hoolocks dis­trib­uted to the east of the Irawaddy-​Nmai Hka Rivers — pre­vi­ously assigned to H. leu­conedys — are actu­ally mor­pho­log­i­cally and genet­i­cally dis­tinct to those west of the river.

(Source: ZSL — Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Lon­don YouTube channel)

They are there­fore call­ing for these ani­mals to be recog­nised as a new species: the Gaoligong or ‘Sky­walker’ hoolock gib­bon (H. tianx­ing sp. nov.) — a Star Wars–inspired name reflect­ing the high tree­top home of the gib­bons, and the his­tor­i­cal Chi­nese view of them as almost mys­ti­cal beings.

Dr Samuel Tur­vey of ZSL said: “The team are thrilled to have made this dis­cov­ery. How­ever, it’s also edged with sad­ness — as we’re also call­ing for the IUCN to imme­di­ately con­fer Endan­gered sta­tus on the Sky­walker hoolock gib­bon, which faces the same grave and immi­nent risk to its sur­vival as many other small ape species in south­ern China and south­east Asia due to habi­tat loss and hunt­ing. Increased aware­ness of the remark­able ecosys­tem of the Gaoligong moun­tains and improved con­ser­va­tion is essen­tial, to ensure we have time to get fully acquainted with this excit­ing new species before it’s too late.”

(Source: ZSL news release, 11.01.2017)

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