Gibbons are one of the largest types of apes that are found in India and a recent rescue mission has saved a small group of the endangered Hoolock gibbon that were stranded in isolated pockets of trees.
The rescue came courtesy of a group of vets and biologists from the International Fund For Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI). They helped the state Forest Department in order to provide a safer and potentially longer future for a group of 18 stranded gibbon families. The mission was seen as so important that there was additional support from Noyen-Melendez Family Trust, Serenity Trust, and philanthropists Himraj Dang, Subhadra and Kannan Jayaraman.
It is specifically the Hoolock gibbons that were subject of the rescue as these are the only type of ape found in India. There are two different strands of the Hoolock gibbon; the Eastern Hoolock and the Western Hoolock. They are found in the northeast of India and have been protected since 1972 as they are on the endangered list.
One of the biggest concerns, as with many species on the endangered list is the fact that their natural habitat is being fragmented and destroyed. There is also the additional threat of poaching which further damage the species chance of survival.
"Gibbons are highly specialised canopy-dwellers using their long arms for movement along tree branches. 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," said Dr. Ian Robinson, IFAW Emergency Relief Director.
Although they naturally live in the trees it has actually been known for stranded gibbons to be so desperate for food that they have descended to the ground.
"Dello is a small village once hosting a good tree cover and undoubtedly supporting a healthy population of the eastern Hoolock gibbons. Of late, extensive felling of private forests has restricted the remnant population comprising 18 families in small clusters of trees surrounded by swathes of farmlands. The present situation offers no opportunity for the apes to forage optimally," said Ipra Mekola, Arunachal Pradesh State Wildlife Advisory Member.
There were a number of different suggestions on how to save the stranded gibbons but it was eventually decided that the only really feasible way was to move them to a better habitat where they would have a chance of long-term survival.
This led to a site in Mehao WLS being selected as it suits the species perfectly. This movement of the gibbons actually allowed Dr. Kuladeep Roy, a primatologist, and his team to study the gibbons behaviour.
"The family of gibbons we selected was the most vulnerable of the 18 families. This comprised an adult male, a female and a young until last week. The female has been missing for five days now. We have been looking for her and she is not in this cluster," said WTI Coordinator Sunil Kyarong.
The move was successful although for the female things didn't look so hopeful, Dr. Kuladeep Roy said, "A month or so ago, a female and her young were killed in attack by dogs. We fear that the missing female may be dead too, as gibbons have very close-knit family bonds lasting their lifetime, and wouldn't leave the family to wander off alone."
The capture was tricky and involved five team members climbing up the trees and chasing the gibbons down once confining them to their roosting Ficus tree. They did this by cutting away nearby trees and using safety nets around the area in case any gibbon, or person, was to fall.
The work will continue, with Dr. NVK Ashraf, Chief Veterinarian at the WTI, saying, "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."