adult pair of eastern gibbons (Hoolock leuconedys)
Photo credit: Peng-Fei Fan

New Populations of Skywalker Gibbons Found in Myanmar

The Endangered Primate’s Love Songs Alerted Scientists to Their Home Beyond China

Skywalker gibbon couples wake up each morning and sing to each other, their voices echoing across the forest canopy of their home. The primate’s endearing love song helped scientists confirm what was formerly a strong hunch: Myanmar has the largest population of endangered Skywalker gibbons on Earth.

When Star Wars-loving scientists identified Skywalker gibbons as a distinct species in 2017, fewer than 200 individuals were known to exist, all in southwestern China. A study published today in the International Journal of Primatology is the first in the past century to confirm living Skywalker gibbons in Myanmar.

The study was led by the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center at the University of California, Davis, which facilitated the formation of the Myanmar Skywalker Gibbon Conservation Committee. Led by Myanmar investigators and composed of Myanmar non-governmental organizations, the group was tasked with leading these important discoveries in their country. Field expeditions were conducted by partner organizations, including Nature Conservation Society Myanmar and Fauna & Flora International – Myanmar.

“We were able to genetically identify 44 new groups of Skywalker gibbons in Myanmar,” said senior author Tierra Smiley Evans, research faculty with the One Health Institute in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “This is a huge resource and success story for Myanmar.”

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