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White-cheeked gibbon
Nomascus leucogenys


CITES: Appendix I (What is CITES?)
IUCN Red List: N. leucogenys: CR (What is Red List?)
Key: CR = Critically endangered
(Click on species name to see IUCN Red List entry, including detailed status assessment information.)


Threat: Human Induced Habitat Loss and Degradation

Increasing pressure on the forests for fuelwood collection, human settlement, agricultural production, and commercial timber extraction threaten the white-cheeked gibbon throughout its range (Geissmann et al. 2000). Gibbons are strictly arboreal and depend on stretches of forest to move between food patches, therefore fragmentation and degradation seriously inhibit the natural behaviors of these animals. Human population growth in all three of the white-cheeked gibbon's range countries exacerbates the problems of habitat destruction. In China, where the range is already small and the population is classified as highly endangered, massive human population growth and encroachment as well as commercial logging endeavors are gravely threatening the last white-cheeked gibbons in that country (Geissmann et al. 2000; Zhang et al. 2002). In Laos, natural habitat is more abundant, but with no legal protection of this land the gibbons are likely to fall prey to the same pressures as in China and Vietnam.

Potential Solutions

Population censusing is vital to the protection of white-cheeked gibbons. Along with a broader understanding of the range area of these apes, protection must be extended to their habitats as soon as possible. The combination of lack of understanding of their range coupled with habitat degradation could lead to the annihilation of the species in a short amount of time. Immediate protection of the area where they range in China is necessary to save that population. Rather than ranging in a "paper park," there should be some enforcement of protected area status. Moreover, the Laotian population should be surveyed and protected as it is likely this is currently the largest and least affected population of white-cheeked gibbons (Geissmann et al. 2000).

Threat: Harvesting (hunting/gathering)

Another salient threat to white-cheeked gibbon survival is the hunting and collection of apes for food, the pet trade, and medicinal purposes (Geissmann et al. 2000). The Laotian population is particularly threatened by poaching for the pet trade and the demand for gibbons in the Chinese and Thai markets is not decreasing (Geissmann et al. 2000). Being hunted for food is inextricably linked to collection for the pet trade because a poacher that shoots an adult male and female is likely to collect at least one immature gibbon for sale, but may catch up to four, because of the social structure of gibbons (Leighton 1987). By massacring entire family groups, poachers can have very significant impacts on the overall population in a short amount of time.

Potential Solutions

Establishing protected areas that are effectively guarded against poachers and other illegal incursions into the forest may alleviate the hunting and collection pressure on gibbons across their range. Decreasing the demand in the Thai and Chinese markets through education programs and public awareness campaigns may also help decrease the wildlife trade in this region. Moreover, cracking down on animal smugglers by decreasing the fluidity by which they cross borders could also help decrease the booming animal trade in Southeast Asia. Where gibbons are hunted for food, alternate protein sources could be provided through development programs, and local pride for such rare animals could be facilitated through education programs. Survey projects could be established that would serve two purposes: the evaluation and identification of the population and distribution of white-cheeked gibbons and the development of employment opportunities for local people as field assistants.

Threat: Intrinsic Factors

Inbreeding may have negative effects on the survival of small populations of gibbons (Leighton 1987). Because of their dispersal patterns, neighboring groups of gibbons have some likelihood of being related. Moreover, where population density is high or suitable habitat is limited because of habitat degradation young males and females are less likely to be able to establish their own territories and they may range closely to their natal territories. It has been observed in some species of gibbon that when a male or female is widowed, the offspring of the opposite sex inherits the territory and mating may occur between parent and offspring (Leighton 1987). Some potential problems with inbreeding that may affect population viability include genetic drift and deleterious allele fixation within the population.

Potential Solutions

If a population is restricted to a small fragment of forest and dispersal opportunities are limited or if the population density is so high that territories are not available, inbreeding may pose a problem. Protecting wide swaths of forest such that white-cheeked gibbons can disperse and establish territories may decrease the chance of inbreeding depression.

Threat: Human Disturbance

Human settlement and fuelwood collection are increasing in this area because of high population growth (Geissmann et al. 2000). Dependence on forest products increases as human populations come into increasing contact with the forest frontier and gibbon habitat suffers as a result.

Potential Solutions

Establishing protected areas immediately as well as enforcing the protected area status of parks may decrease human pressure on forests. Establishing research sites in villages that can involve communities in surveys and other research endeavors may also help in mitigating the burdens on the forest through alternate revenue generation and public awareness. Development programs that create alternate fuel sources and food programs may decrease fuelwood collection and agricultural encroachment.





Content last modified: December 1, 2010

Written by Kristina Cawthon Lang. Reviewed by Alan Mootnick.

Cite this page as:
Cawthon Lang KA. 2010 December 1. Primate Factsheets: White-cheeked gibbon (Nomascus leucogenys) Conservation . <>. Accessed 2014 April 18.