Struggling for survival
The move, organised by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), was carried out following evidence that the eastern hoolock gibbons, classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, were struggling to survive due to the pressures of heavy deforestation and fragmentation within their forest habitat.
Extensive felling of private forests around the small village of Dello has forced the remaining population of the eastern hoolock gibbon, consisting of just 18 family groups, to live in small clusters of trees surrounded by farmland.
“Dello is a small village which once hosted good tree cover and undoubtedly supported a healthy population of the eastern hoolock gibbons,” says Ipra Mekola, a state wildlife advisory member. “The present situation offers no opportunity for the apes to forage optimally.”
Reading the signs
The eastern hoolock gibbon, along with its relative the western hoolock gibbon, faces a number of threats in India. Deforestation, influenced by coal mining and oil extraction, is a key cause for concern, leaving just small fragmented pockets of suitable habitat for the primates to live in. The eastern hoolock gibbon is believed by local communities to have medicinal properties, and this, combined with its appeal as a source of food, means that hunting is a further threat to this species.
Gibbons are known for swinging rapidly and gracefully through their treetop homes, foraging high up in the canopy. Yet in poor habitat conditions, where suitable food is unavailable, these primates may venture down to ground level in order to search for food. Leaving the protection of the trees puts gibbons at great risk, as Dr Ian Robinson, IFAW’s Emergency Relief Director explains, “Their physical attributes are not suited to walk and they can fall easy prey on ground, so it is very rare to see them descend from the canopy under natural circumstances.”
Researchers in the Dello area noticed the eastern hoolock gibbons coming down to the ground to forage, and realised that there was a serious problem. “A month or so ago, a female and her young were killed in an attack by dogs,” said Dr Kuladeep Roy. A further female gibbon is also thought to have been killed as a result of foraging at ground level.
The two translocated individuals, an adult male and a juvenile, were confined to a tree by researchers in order to be caught and sedated, before being transported to Mehao Wildlife Santuary where they were safely released.
Now that the gibbons are living in the reserve, there is still more work to be done, as Dr NVK Ashraf, Chief Veterinarian with WTI explains, “The IFAW-WTI team will monitor the released gibbons for the next six months. This is our first ever attempt to translocate gibbons in India.”
Read more on this story at Mongabay.com – Rare apes saved in India.
Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author