Geissmann, T. 2002: Gibbons: In the shadow of the great apes. In: Caring for primates. Abstracts of the XIXth congress of the International Primatological Society, 4th-9th August, 2002, Beijing, China, pp. 119-120. Mammalogical Society of China, Beijing.

Gibbons: In the shadow of the great apes

T. Geissmann

Institute of Zoology, Tierärztliche Hochschule, Bünteweg 17, 30559 Hannover, Germany, e-mail:

Key Words: species loss, vanishing apes, conservation bias

In an ever increasing way, media and scientists alike have succeeded in making us aware of the plight of the great apes, while at the same time ignoring the gibbons or small apes. We are being taught that the great apes are "neglected apes", "forgotten apes" or "vanishing apes" (book titles on great apes), and that our first conservation priority among primates should be directed at these species. A simple review of research and publication activities documents that not the great apes, but the small apes are the true neglected or forgotten apes. Similarly, a review of the population numbers suffices to show that conservation priorities should be directed at small apes. Even the most endangered species of great apes (Pongo abelii) still has populations of more than 10,000 individuals in the wild. In contrast, there are at least three gibbon species (e.g. Nomascus concolor, N. sp. cf. nasutus, Hylobates moloch) with less than 3,000 individuals. Population sizes of several gibbon species have not been estimated since the early 1980ís or are "data deficient." Whereas research on, and conservation activities directed at, the great apes are supported by a strong lobby, gibbons tend to be overlooked whenever media, scientists, funding agencies and conservation agencies are referring to apes. Gibbons are largely ignored in current debates about ape conservation (bush meat, world heritage status for great apes, etc.). The long-standing tradition to favor great apes, or to ignore the small apes, has in recent years contributed to divert from the increasingly critical status of many gibbon populations and may result in the loss of several ape species. In order to survive, the small apes need to get out of the shadow of the great apes and obtain an equivalent share of attention from conservation agencies, scientists and media alike.

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