Con­ser­va­tion re­port

As The Rise of Sky­walker hits cin­e­mas, Su­san Cheyne spot­lights a pri­mate with a Star Wars link.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - CONTENTS -

‘Sky­walker’ hoolock gibbon

Why is this gibbon named af­ter a Star Wars char­ac­ter?

Its species name is tianx­ing, which trans­lates to ‘heav­enly move­ment’ in Chi­nese, re­flect­ing its grace­ful brachi­a­tion (arm swing­ing) through the trees as well as the im­por­tant sta­tus gib­bons have in cul­ture and mythol­ogy. The sci­en­tists who named it were fans of Star Wars and felt ‘sky walker’ ac­cu­rately de­scribed the move­ment of this en­dan­gered species. Us­ing links to pop­u­lar cul­ture is a re­ally ef­fec­tive way to pro­mote con­ser­va­tion out­reach and in­crease pub­lic aware­ness.

Why did this species ap­pear on the Pri­mates in Peril list in 2019?

This gibbon was only de­scribed as a dis­tinct species in 2017, through de­tailed ge­netic anal­y­sis and com­par­i­son of museum spec­i­mens. Be­cause of this there has been lit­tle fo­cused con­ser­va­tion at­ten­tion on it. There are only about 200 of these gib­bons left in the wild that we know of, so the IUCN felt that now was the time to put this species on the list to raise aware­ness and much-needed con­ser­va­tion fund­ing and ac­tion.

Why is it threat­ened?

One ma­jor threat is the cur­rent civil un­rest in Myan­mar. Habitat frag­men­ta­tion in China is an­other big threat. Like all gib­bons, it needs forests to sur­vive and con­nec­tiv­ity of those forests for the dis­per­sal of young adult gib­bons from their fam­ily groups. The fur­ther break up of this habitat could be dis­as­trous for their sur­vival.

What have we learnt so far?

We know about its pop­u­la­tion dis­tri­bu­tion in China, and a bit about its be­hav­iour, in­clud­ing how it spends some of its time. These gib­bons pre­fer to sleep in tall trees, use dif­fer­ent trees each night and go to bed early, all to avoid noc­tur­nal preda­tors. In the fu­ture, I’d like to dis­cover whether the species is still present and sur­viv­ing in Myan­mar, too. Re­search is un­der­way to un­der­stand how these gib­bons use their for­est home and in­ter­act so­cially. Leoma Williams

SU­SAN CHEYNE is vice chair of the IUCN Sec­tion on Small Apes.

FIND OUT MORE Read the Pri­mates in Peril re­port: bit.ly/pri­mate­peril

These are the gib­bons we’re look­ing for: only 200 re­main.

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