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Gibbon Research Lab., Hannover
5 November 2001
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 activities documents that not the great apes, but the small apes are the true neglected or forgotten apes. For instance, at the last Congress of the American Society of Primatologists, great apes were represented in numerous presentations as follows: Gorilla 18; Pan 31; Pongo 5. In contrast, the small apes were represented as follows: Bunopithecus 0, Hylobates 0, Nomascus 0, Symphalangus 0 (source: American Journal of Primatology 54 Supplement - 2001, pp. 200-201).
Similarly, a simple review of the population numbers suffices to show that conservation priorities should be directed at small apes. Whereas even the most endangered species of great apes (Pongo abelii) still has populations of more than 10,000 individuals in the wild, 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 other gibbon species have not been estimated since the early 1980's and population numbers of several other species are simply "data deficient."
Whereas the 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. Not only is the continued preference for great apes unjustified, it has in recent years contributed to divert from the increasingly critical status of many gibbon populations in the wild. Gibbons are largely ignored in current debates about ape conservation (e.g. bush meat, world heritage status for great apes etc.). If the long-standing tradition to favour great apes, or to ignore the small apes, is not consciously and actively being counteracted, it may result in the loss of several ape species.
As a first step to counteract this development, I would like to organise a gibbon symposium with the title "Gibbon Diversity and Conservation", to be held at the 19th Congress of the International Primatological Society (Beijing, China, August 4-9, 2002). This symposium title should be broad enough to encompass research activities of many gibbon researchers, especially if diversity is interpreted as including evolutionary, genetic, behavioural or anatomical diversity. However, a second symposium with a different title can also be organised if enough people are interested.
I would like to encourage all gibbon researchers who plan on attending the IPS Congress to actively participate in this symposium. If there are enough participants, I will submit this symposium topic to the Organising Committee of the IPS congress. The Organising Committee has postponed the deadline for accepting topics for symposia and workshops to 31st December, 2001. Please send me a preliminary title of your presentation until 1 December 2001. I will then contact the Organising Committee of the congress and officially submit the final symposium title.
I am aware that many scientists will find it difficult
to attend the congress in Beijing for financial reasons. I will not be able to provide
any financial support for contributors to the symposium. If your participation at
the congress critically depends on receiving financial support, please add a corresponding
statement when you send me the title of your contribution. When I submit the symposium
topic, I will ask the Organising Committee whether financial support is available
to symposium participants, especially for students and participants from habitat
countries. I am not sure whether any support will be available, but it is worth a
try, especially if the Organising Committee considers this symposium to be an important
element of their congress.
Thank you for your consideration.
Please also forward this message to other colleagues who may be interested in participating in the symposium.
More information on the IPS congress: http://www.ips.ioz.ac.cn