Young Western Hoolock Gibbon
A young male western hoolock gibbon illuminated by early morning light in a fruit tree. Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India. The western hoolock gibbon is India’s only ape and a species that has been on my list to see for many years, this time my luck came through and I spent a couple of productive mornings with a family whose territory bordered an accessible road.
About the Hoolock Gibbon:
The Western Hoolock Gibbon (Hoolock hoolock) is a species of ape found in the tropical forest canopies of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Male Hoolock gibbons are black with distinctive white eyebrow-stripes above their eyes. The males are larger and heavier than the females and weigh around 6.9kg. Females are much lighter in colour, usually a shade of brown or grey and weigh around 6kg.
Western Hoolock Gibbons live in small family groups and typically give birth to a single offspring. Babies spend their first months clinging to their mothers waist as she navigates the tree canopy. The young gibbons are gradually weaned and become more independent over the next two years. They will then stay with their parents until they reach sexual maturity.
Western Hoolock Gibbons are well known for their distinctively loud and musical calls that can be heard from a huge distance away in the forest. Male and female gibbons often call out in unison, helping the pair to mark their territory.
Hoolock gibbons are arboreal and only come to the ground in exceptional circumstances. They are agile climbers and jumpers able to navigate dense jungle and large jumps between trees with ease. They are omnivorous in nature, consuming leaves, fruits, bark, invertebrates and birds eggs.
Hoolock gibbon conservation:
Over the last three decades the population of western hoolock gibbons has declined by almost 90%. It is now considered to be one of the 25 most endangered primate species in the world. The IUCN expects the population to continue it’s decline, halving by to at 2045. Primary threats include, habitat loss due to deforestation, being hunted for food and medicine and road traffic accidents have put this species at serious risk, and habitat protection is critical for their survival.
At a time when Western Hoolock Gibbon habitats are being deforested all across Asia, there are some organizations helping to make a difference. Generous donations have allowed the Wildlife Trust of India to protect and expand biodiversity corridors used by the further funding will allow the protection of tens of thousands more acres to expand the network and reconnect isolated populations.
A healthy network of connected forests is critical to the survival of Western Hoolock Gibbons as they rely entirely on uninterrupted canopy. Within its already restricted range (northeastern India, Bangladesh and parts of Myanmar) this ape inhabits a wide range of forest types including moist deciduous to evergreen, sub-tropical and lowland.
You can find more about Hoolock gibbons here.
About Kaziranga National Park:
Kaziranga National Park was first established in 1905 with the help of Mary Curzon, the wife of Viceroy Lord Curzon of Kedleston. As Vicereine of India, Mary held the highest official title in the Indian Empire that a woman could hold. It is said that when Mary visited the area to see rhinos she was unable to find even one and so persuaded her husband to take urgent measures to protect the vulnerable species. After the legislation was passed the Kaziranga Reserve Forest was created with an area of 232 km2. In 1985 Kaziranga became a UNESCO world heritage and is now one of India’s most famous tourist destinations, located on the edge of the Himalayan biodiversity hotspot in the state of Assam.
Now covering 430² km, Kaziranga is dominated by dense tropical forests, marshland and vast expanses of giant elephant grass, so called because they can grow tall enough to hide even the largest animals. The Brahmaputra river that winds it way through the flood plains is the lifeblood of the area and gives the national park its amazing biodiversity.
Kaziranga is home to the world’s largest population of Greater one-horned rhinoceros. Over 2200 rhinos inhabit the elephant grass meadows and dense forests; approximately 2/3rd of total world population. The National Park is also home to many other endemic and endangered animals such as Hoolock Gibbons; India’s only ape, Indian Elephants, Sloth Bears, Wild water buffalo and swamp deer. An increase in the tiger population every year has also meant that Kaziranga was declared as a Tiger Reserve in the 2006 and it is now purported to have the highest density of tigers anywhere in the world.
Along with the wide range of mammal species the park is also recognised as an important area for birds. Rare birds such as the ferruginous duck, lesser white-fronted goose, Baer’s pochard, adjutant storks, black-necked storks, and Asian Openbill storks migrate here from the Central Asia during the winter.
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