White-Cheeked Gibbons and Siamangs are pretty interesting animals. I’ve become even more interested as I’ve spent time working at their exhibits, sharing information about them with Guests and learning about them from the keepers.
Many people pass by both exhibits and, in awe, exclaim, “Ooh! Look at the monkeys!” and after working at these positions for a while, I sometimes want to yell back, “Where?!” I didn’t know this before working at Animal Kingdom, but I’m here today to tell you that monkeys have tails, and apes do not. Take a look at these guys…
Notice the lack of tail? Veggie Tales even gives us a further clarification through the vocal skills of Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato…
So back to the original topic, the Gibbons. White-Cheeked Gibbons and Siamangs are somewhat related, in that Siamangs are the largest type of Gibbon. Both species live in family groups in the wild, and are monogomous, meaning they mate for life. They raise their young, teaching them necessary life-skills, like foraging and how to sing. I’ve read that scientists have done studies on Gibbon songs, because the duet that the male and female sings has a specific pattern to it. They believe that the duet may actually strengthen the bond between the pair, which I find fascinating. Once the young have reached maturity, which is usually around the age of 7 or 8, the parents know it’s time for them to go and will actually become more aggressive towards their babies. It’s how they get them to get out and start their own lives. At Animal Kingdom, we work with other AZA accredited organizations, and once the young reach this point in their lives, they will be relocated to start their own family, just as they would leave in the wild. Also, Gibbons have a helpful adaptation called brachiation, which basically means that they can rotate their arms around 360˚ without having to twist like we do. It comes in handy when climbing.
At Animal Kingdom we have a family of four White-Cheeked Gibbons. They get their name from their white cheeks (go figure right?). These guys are really quite interesting. When they’re born, the babies are all a blonde or buff color. At about one year of age, they all turn completely black, which you can see happening with our little baby right now (he just had his first birthday). This picture was taken earlier than the photo of the White-Cheeked Gibbons I have above, so even comparing these two, you can see some of the color change.
Then, if it’s a female, once she reaches maturity, which is around the age of 7 or 8, she’ll turn completely blonde again. The males will simply stay their black color. So, in the family that’s at Animal Kingdom, there’s a blonde female (21 years old) and her mate (who is black and 19 years old). They’ve had 3 babies, one has reached her maturity stage and has now started her own family at another zoo (so she’s blonde), and two we still have here. Her oldest at Animal Kingdom is still black yet, because she’s only about 5 years old, and the baby, as I mentioned earlier, has recently turned one. Got all that? For some, the process is easiest to think of as grey hair growing in.
Siamangs have their own cool adaptations. First of all, the second and third digit of their toes is webbed, which is somewhat strange, given that gibbons hate the water (which is why it works as a great natural barrier for them in their enclosures). Furthermore, Siamangs have a throat pouch, which they puff up while calling. It sort of reminds me of a frog’s throat. This pouch amplifies their sound, and they can actually be heard up to about 1.5 miles away!
At Animal Kingdom, we have a family group of three. The adult male is 36 years old and has arthritis. In captivity Gibbons have been known to live for more than 40 years, and in the wild their average lifespan is around 35 years. Just like humans though, this can vary. His mate, the adult female, is 32, and their daughter is 3.
An observant Guest may notice several objects hanging in the Gibbon habitats, such as the bucket pictured below.
These objects serve as a form of enrichment for our Gibbons and are changed every day (given that the Gibbons behave and listen to their command to go inside so our keepers can walk into the habitat and hang them up). The keepers often put food inside these enrichment objects, challenging the Gibbons to work for their food and to simulate forageing, as a Gibbon would do in the wild. I thought that was pretty neat.
Another thing we like to share with Guests, is that our Gibbons are native to the rainforests of Southeast Asia. Due to the destruction of the rainforest, much of their habitat is lost, and Gibbons are threatened. One great way we can help these guys out, besides simply recycling our paper and purchasing recycled paper products, is by purchasing bamboo products. Bamboo is actually a type of grass, and grows really, really fast, so it’s a great renewable resource. By purchasing bamboo products instead of wood, we can help save these enchanting creatures. Another great product is shade grown coffee. Many coffee plantations cut down acers of rainforest to make room for their coffee fields. Shade grown coffee is specifically grown in the shade and the growers do not cut down the trees in the area. This type of uses much less pesticides and fertelizers, because coffee grows in the shade normally.
Some companies do try to replant the forests that they have cut down, however, the trees that are planted are often not the right type of tree to support the ecosystem that a Gibbon needs to survive, and the Gibbons are unable to return.
There are many more ways you can help protect the rainforest as well. By being aware of your purchases and taking the small step of doing a little research before you buy, you can make a real impact. Simply learning more about these guys and helping inform others about their plight, you can help improve their chances as well.
If anyone has any questions about Siamangs, White-Cheeked Gibbons, ways you can help, or anything else, please let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you!