Hanoi, Vietnam — The first comprehensive study of gibbons in Vietnam in over a decade found that three of the six species (the eastern and western black gibbons and the northern white-cheeked gibbon) are perilously close to extinction, and the remaining three have suffered massive population reductions.
The publication, The Conservation Status of Gibbons in Vietnam, co-authored by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and Conservation International (CI), was released today. It details the population declines that Vietnam’s gibbon species have suffered over the last 10 years. Gibbons have now disappeared from much of their historical range in Vietnam, and the few remaining viable populations are restricted to protected areas that in almost all cases lack the standard of protection needed to ensure their survival.
“Vietnam is an incredibly important location for gibbons globally, with six different species, all of which are threatened by extinction”, said Ben Rawson, CI’s Regional Primatologist for the Greater Mekong Program and Coordinator of the Primate Specialist Group, Indochina.
“The general public, local stakeholders, especially local government, need to be more aware and supportive of protecting these critically endangered populations” Rawson said. Awareness of the plight of the gibbons nationally is very low, which is a major contributing factor to their ongoing decline. “While gibbons are afforded the highest level of legal protection in Vietnam, this is not widely appreciated by either law enforcement officials or local communities. Now largely restricted to protected areas, gibbon populations are being whittled away, individual by individual, to the point where many areas no longer contain viable populations.”
“Tackling illegal hunting and wildlife trade are key to retaining Vietnam’s wonderful gibbon fauna.” says Rawson. Hunting and habitat loss through land conversion have driven the dramatic recent declines in gibbon populations. Habitat loss continues inside protected areas, through illegal logging, agricultural encroachment and infrastructure developments, such as hydropower dams and roads. Improved access to the forest for hunters and the reduced carrying capacity for local gibbon populations are major issues for gibbon conservation nationally.
Habitat loss also causes population fragmentation, leading to ever smaller and more vulnerable subpopulations. Hunting for food and the wildlife trade continues to be a serious issue due to demands for the pet trade and unfounded beliefs in the medicinal properties of the animals bodies.
All threats to gibbons are manmade — habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and hunting,” said Dr. Ulrike Streicher, Wildlife Veterinarian, Primate Programme Manager, FFI Vietnam. “To thrive, gibbon populations need relatively large tracks of reasonably intact forest and this is increasingly rare in Vietnam. Their protection must be an immediate conservation priority for Vietnam. The small local successes we have thus far achieved in gibbon conservation, for example in the Cao Vit Gibbon Conservation Area in Cao Bang Province, give reason for hope, but a lot more needs to be done.”
The status of gibbons in Vietnam can be considered an indicator for the status of the nation’s biodiversity and natural environment.
“The geography of Vietnam lends itself to extraordinary level of biodiversity, and the diversity of gibbons in Vietnam is no exception,” said Paul Insua-Cao, FFI Project Manager for Gibbon Conservation in Laos and Yunnan, China. “They inhabit the most northerly subtropical forests which experience cold winters at high altitudes to tropical monsoon lowland forests in the south. Regrettably, the high level of threats to the survival of gibbons in Vietnam is another trend they have in common with much of the rest of the country's most precious wildlife.”
“In most of the known gibbon ranges in Vietnam, gibbon populations have been driven to the brink of extinction, as a result gibbons are now commonly reported as locally extinct. All gibbon taxa in Vietnam are on the brink of extinction, we must act now or our next generation will not have the opportunity to see gibbons in their natural habitats ”, said Nguyen Manh Ha, researcher, Centre for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies (CRES),Vietnam National University. “Gibbons are wonderfully charismatic and gentle creatures, which do not harm anyone’s livelihoods, but charm us with their beauty, acrobatics, song, and they are our closest relatives in Vietnam,” Ha said. “If nothing can be done to secure the long-term future of gibbons in Vietnam, what hope is there for the rest of Vietnam’s biodiversity and the fragile environment its human population depends upon?”
Last year, the death of the last rhino in Vietnam was announced, sending a sub-species to extinction and eradicating rhino from mainland SE Asia. Vietnam’s gibbons are also looking down the barrel of an extinction crisis. To save Vietnam’s gibbons is going to take increased funding, increased technical capacity, major improvements in protected area management and biodiversity conservation and a radical and critical shift in government and public attitudes towards Vietnam’s national heritage.
This conservation status review of gibbons in Vietnam, updates a similar review which was carried out in 2000. A decade later, this report attempts to assess trends in the populations of each gibbon species in Vietnam, the effectiveness of efforts so far to conserve them and where the priorities for additional conservation interventions lie. This status review is also part of a broader set of initiatives in this region which include action plans in both Laos and Yunnan Province, China, and is thus also able to give a regional context.
Fauna & Flora International/Conservation International, Hanoi, Vietnam
Suggested citation: Rawson, B. M, Insua-Cao, P., Nguyen Manh Ha, Van Ngoc Thinh, Hoang Minh Duc, Mahood, S., Geissmann, T. and Roos, C. 2011. The Conservation Status of Gibbons in Vietnam, Fauna & Flora International/Conservation International, Hanoi
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About Conservation International (CI) –
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Arcus Foundation – Founded in 2000 by Jon Stryker, the Arcus Foundation is a leading global foundation advancing pressing social justice and conservation issues. Through its programme for Great Apes in the Wild, Arcus works to ensure that viable populations of great apes are protected from extinction and living in habitats that are managed sustainably and holistically, as well as integrated with economic development objectives.
Nowak-Sprague SE Asia Biodiversity Initiative – The Nowak-Sprague SE Asia Biodiversity Initiative (NSSEABI) was created by the Nowak-Sprague family with the goal to preserve biodiversity and pristine places along with humanitarian goals in South-East Asia. The NSSEABI allocates grants to existing organizations, and has worked closely with Conservation International and Pathfinder International in Vietnam, focusing on primate conservation and human development projects.