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Primate Conservation

Coordinators:  Dean Anderson and Nancy Ruggeri, Department of Zoology,
University of Wisconsin-Madison

The following is a summary of one of the symposia that will be presented at
the XIXth Congress of the International Primatological Society meetings in
Beijing, China August 4-9, 2002.  For more information on the meetings, please see:


Organizer: Thomas Geissmann (Institut fur Zoologie, Tierarztliche Hochschule
Hannover, German, E-mail: )

In an ever increasing way, media and scientists alike have succeeded in making us
aware of the plight of the great apes, while at the same time ignoring the gibbons or
small apes. We are being taught that the great apes are "neglected apes", "forgotten
apes" or "vanishing apes" (book titles on great apes), and that our first conservation
priority among primates should be directed at these species.

A simple review of research activities documents that not the great apes, but the small
apes are the true neglected or forgotten apes. For instance, at the last Congress of the
American Society of Primatologists, great apes were represented in numerous presentations
as follows: Gorilla 18; Pan 31; Pongo 5.  In contrast, the small apes were represented as
follows: Bunopithecus 0, Hylobates 0, Nomascus 0, Symphalangus 0 (source: American
Journal of Primatology 54 Supplement - 2001, pp. 200-201).

Similarly, a simple review of the population numbers suffices to show that conservation
priorities should be directed at small apes. Whereas even the most endangered species
of great apes (Pongo abelii) still has populations of more than 10,000 individuals in the
wild, there are at least three gibbon species (e.g. Nomascus concolor, N. sp. cf. nasutus,
Hylobates moloch) with less than 3,000 individuals. Population sizes of several other gibbon
species have not been estimated since the early 1980's and population numbers of several
other species are simply "data deficient."

Whereas the research on, and conservation activities directed at, the great apes are supported
by a strong lobby, gibbons tend to be overlooked whenever media, scientists, funding agencies
and conservation agencies are referring to apes. Not only is the continued preference for
great apes unjustified, it has in recent years contributed to divert from the increasingly critical
status of many gibbon populations in the wild. Gibbons are largely ignored in current debates
about ape conservation (e.g. bush meat, world heritage status for great apes etc.). If the long-
standing tradition to favour great apes, or to ignore the small apes, is not consciously and
actively being counteracted, it may result in the loss of several ape species.

The symposium with the title "Gibbon Diversity and Conservation" shall represent a first
step to counteract this development (to be held at the 19th Congress of the International
Primatological Society, Beijing, China, August 4-9, 2002).  This symposium title should
be broad enough to encompass research activities of many gibbon researchers, especially
if diversity is interpreted as including evolutionary, genetic, behavioural or anatomical diversity.

In contrast to great apes, gibbons or small apes are rarely featured in symposia. The last
international gibbon symposium I can remember was held in July 1980. I would like to
encourage all gibbon researchers who plan on attending the IPS Congress to actively
participate in this symposium. In order to survive, the small apes apparently need to get
out of the shadow of the great apes and obtain an equivalent share of attention from
conservation agencies, scientists and media alike. In the roundtable discussion concluding
the symposium, strategies (and priorities) promoting gibbon research, conservation and
media presence shall be assessed. Any consensus here could help to consolidate gibbonologists
as a force promoting gibbon conservation.

Topics in Primate Conservation is supported by a grant RR00167,
Regional Primate Centers Program, National Center for Research
Resources, The National Institutes of Health.

Posted Date: 9-16-02