Discover the Gibbon: Lesser Apes of Asia

08 January, 2021
The gibbon is a primate that's mainly characterized by the length of its arms, which allow it to move by swinging through the branches of the trees.

These apes are a group of little-known primates, called hilobaths. The gibbon is a hominoid, just like humans, chimpanzees, or orangutans. However, it’s very different from these species in many ways.

Unlike the great apes, gibbons are smaller, which makes them lesser apes. What’s more, they have extremely long arms, which allow them to have a unique form of movement: brachiation.

The gibbon: excellent brachiators

The length of its arms and its well-adapted skeleton allow it to move by brachiation. It’s an arboreal animal, which moves by swinging from branch to branch using only its arms.

These animals can move up to over 3 feet per stroke, and even jump up to 33 feet from one tree to another. This allows them to access fruit that other animals can’t reach, and to spend little energy in their movements.

Although humans and other great apes can perform incomplete brachiation, only the brachiation that the gibbon performs is considered true. Other primates, such as the spider monkey, are also semibrachiators, as they don’t perform this movement completely.

Their thumb is also unique, and its length and articulation allows it to serve both as a hook during brachiation and also to grasp objects.

A brown gibbon with while eyebrows and a black face sitting on the grass behind yellow flowers.

The unique call of the gibbon

Another reason why these primates are special is because of their call. The calls of these primates are very intense and frequent. What’s more, it’s very specific to the species and gender that emits them.

Gibbons use their call to mark their territory and warn off rivals, although they also seem to be used to find a mate. They’re very strong sounds, which can reach five kilohertz, and can be heard for dozens of miles.

The behavior of the gibbon

These are social animals that normally live in groups of between two and seven animals. They stay together for much of the day to groom and eat in company. They’re mammals with strong social bonds that need to spend their days with other gibbons during every stage of their lives.

The territory they defend ranges from 1 to just over 4 square miles. Although they’re very territorial animals, they hardly ever become aggressive and regulate their territories through the sounds they make, which are intended to intimidate other rivals.

A gibbon raising both arms in the air.

As for their diet, they consume fruit all day long, especially figs. They can also consume tender leaves, flowers, and invertebrates. In general, their unique displacement means they don’t have major problems in obtaining their food, since they have few competitors.

Threats to the gibbon

Gibbons live in the forests of Southeast Asia, along with other primate species such as the orangutan. Therefore, they have very similar threats, which are mainly deforestation and illegal trafficking of wildlife.

The deforestation of these forests is produced mainly by its harvesting for palm oil, a product that numerous hygiene products and processed foods contain. To obtain this oil, the habitat of these animals must be burned.

The production of oil palm causes problems to the inhabitants of the area and to the fauna that lives in these forests. So, the best way to protect these incredible animals is to reject the consumption of products such as industrial sweets and other processed products that contain this harmful oil.