This month was a happy one for BFF gibbon duo Sibu and Sibau who moved out of quarantine into the outdoor enclosures next to their new female neighbour, Among.
For the last few years, Orangutan Project has hosted volunteer groups from the Orangutan Species Survival Program in association with the AZA in the USA. These have been groups of experienced animal keepers specialising in a variety of species, and have assisted in the past with tasks from animal training to enrichment improvement. Four keepers joined us for 2 weeks this month, and when it transpired that they all had experience working with gibbons we came up with the perfect task for them!
Matang has a large, outdoor cage network intended for gibbons, which for the last few months has only housed one individual. The remaining cages were rather depleted of entertainment for housing primates, so this was the task at hand. The extreme enclosure makeover included addition of nifty see-saw logs bolted onto posts in the cage, swinging platforms, more ropes for brachiating and shelves to rest on high up off the ground.
When fitting an enclosure with in-situ enrichment structures such as these it is important to think about the needs of that species so that we can provide them with a means to display some natural behaviours. Gibbons are incredibly lightweight, agile and lightning fast animals who are perfectly adapted for a life in the tree tops where they brachiate effortlessly. Therefore gibbons, especially those moving into more spacious new digs, get very excited by swingy extravaganzas! They may in fact be the only species at Matang that light up more when presented with new structures that they can swing and leap off than they do when they’re presented with food based enrichment (which always seems to puzzle them greatly).
As well as improving their physical health by keeping them active, great enrichment like this improves an animal’s mental health, the importance of which should not be underestimated especially for intelligent primates such as these that have suffered trauma at an early age. All of the gibbons housed at Matang are the victims of wildlife trade. The Mullers gibbon, which is categorised as endangered on the IUCN red list, is listed on appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that their international trade is prohibited. Furthermore, they are listed as a totally protected species in Sarawak, a classification which states that they may not be kept as pets, hunted, captured, killed, sold, imported or exported. However, wildlife crime persists as enforcement proves incredibly difficult to action effectively, in all countries.
There is no denying that gibbons are incredibly cute and this is their curse because with cuteness comes a demand in the pet trade. In most cases every infant which makes it into the pet trade represents two dead parents who’ve been killed so that their infant can be captured. This is why the illegal trade of gibbons as pets, along with deforestation, is the greatest threats to the survival of the species. Gibbons, like most exotic species, tend to be rejected by their owners when they grow out of their infancy and start to exhibit their wild behaviours. All the gibbons at Matang have been kept for many years as pets and have been relinquished when they have bitten their owners or generally displayed innate wild behaviours that their owners find to be tiresome and problematic.
A final yet critical reason we place a huge emphasis on in-situ enrichment for the gibbons is to improve their health. Gibbons are incredibly susceptible to a common parasitic worm called strongyloides (thread worm). In gibbons the parasite almost always auto-infects, meaning that the parasite reproduces within the host. Many gibbons may only display symptoms very late in the process by which time they are unfortunately very likely to die. Because gibbons are exclusively arboreal in the wild they do not tend to come into contact with strongyloides, which is found in the soil; therefore they do not have any natural resistance to it. In captivity gibbons can end up spending a lot of time on the ground, something that they would not do in the wild, which leaves them susceptible to infection by this parasite. Therefore enrichment and enclosure design that encourages them to remain off the floor is very important!
In the coming months we’ll let these two boys settle in and get to know Among but long term the goal is to move more gibbons out of quarantine and one way to do this would be to find Among a friend whom she can co-habit with. Watch this space… but for today we hope you enjoy some pics of the new bachelor pad! Huge thanks to keepers Michelle, Clair, Beth and Paul from the USA for your help and inspiration.
Also attached here is a photo of Rosie, one of the gibbons currently held in the quarantine area of Matang, taken by serial volunteer Elaine Foster. Just because; it’s a lovely photo, we have a lot of gibbon fans, and this is a blog about gibbons!