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All About Gibbons

In the past, many species of gibbons were lumped into a single genus called Hylobates. But today, scientists recognize four different genera of gibbons (pictured above) based on differences in their chromosome numbers. These 4 genera are further divided into 20 different species recognized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Forest Home

Gibbons are important seed dispersers in the jungle and play a major role in keeping the planet's precious rainforests healthy for us all.

But gibbons are seriously threatened in the wild and face the very real threat of extinction.

If humans don't change our ways fast by stopping deforestation, mitigating climate change, and ending pet trade and poaching, these magnificent small apes will not survive.

Why Are Gibbons Endangered?

Gibbons are endangered because the forests they call home are being destroyed for logging and agriculture gains at an alarming rate.


The main culprits of deforestation are the industries of timber, paper & pulp, and especially PALM OIL. The top two producers of palm oil in the world are Malaysia and Indonesia, these countries are ravaging their lands to set up palm oil plantations - decimating their forests, and killing off the biodiversity that call these jungles home.


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Gibbons face serious threats from humans who use them for commercial exploitation.


Illegal wildlife trade intensively harvests Asian apes from the wild for pets and tourism attractions. Poachers hunt to capture infant gibbons because babies are easier to control in captive/tourist settings. In the process gibbon mothers, fathers, grandparents, and adult siblings are often killed as they try to protect their babies from poachers and danger.


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What We Know About Gibbons

Learning all we can about what life is like for gibbons in the jungle through non-invasive observational behavioural research is a vital component of developing effective conservation projects and practices that work for gibbons and the local communities of people who live near them to ensure small apes both survive and thrive in their jungle homes.

Hover over the photos in the grid below to learn about

the day-to-day activities, diet, communication, and living habits of wild gibbons.

Location & Habitat

Where in the world do gibbons live?

Gibbons live in primary forests throughout South East Asia from Southern China to Indonesia. Typically they live in tropical dry deciduous and moist evergreen forests, but they can also live in lowland and montane forests.

Misty Mountains

Along the southern border of China, some gibbons even live in tropical broad- leaf evergreen forests where there is brief seasonal snowfall.

But remember! Even though the map appears to show large continuous zones, in reality forest cover in SE Asia is sporadic and restricted to isolated patches, leaving gibbons with only small fragments of forest to live in.

Activity Patterns

What do gibbons do all day?


Gibbons are active apes who spend the majority of their time high in the treetops searching for food, playing with young or resting to groom with family members.


They rarely come to the ground and love to sun themselves in the tallest trees that emerge high above the tree canopy.

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Unlike other apes, gibbons do not build nests to sleep in each night, instead they settle down to sleep seated on tree branches high in the canopy of the forest.


What do gibbons eat?


All gibbons are frugivorous primates, which means they prefer to eat ripe fruit (such as figs).


Gibbons will often supplement their fruit diets with leaves and occasionally eat invertebrates such as termites and arachnids.


Smaller and lighter than all other apes, gibbons move easily on thin flexible branches. Their long arms, help them reach fruits and young leaves that grow on the tips of tree branches in the forest canopy.


How do gibbons get around?

Like other apes, gibbons are brachiators and use two-handed suspension to swing through treetops. However, gibbons are extremely specialized branch swingers, and have a unique technique called "richochetal brachiation". 

Gibbons have unique muscle and bone structures that allow them to swing at substantial speeds with impressive maneuverability. Their skills are so powerful that a gibbon can propel forward and upwards in free flight between branches with grace and ease.

Gibbons are so comfortable high up in the trees, that they will even walk upright on two feet like humans along thick branches as they travel, raising their hands up over their heads and out to the sides for added balance.

Social Life

Do gibbons get along with each other?

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Gibbons tend to live in monogamous social pairs, with 1 adult male, 1 adult female and their multiple offspring. Occasionally other family members (fathers-sons, older offspring, and brothers) may stick together with the family too.

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Most often group members travel together as they forage throughout the day. From time to time adults may split up for a while, but never going so far​ that they are out of sight from each other.


But gibbons don’t always mate for life. Some couples do. But other individuals switch partners many times throughout their lives. And other times couples may remain together for years then suddenly break up.

Grooming & Play

How do gibbons care for each other?

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During resting periods, gibbons will engage in grooming activities wherein individuals will alternate every few minutes between presenting to be groomed and grooming the other in return.

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Young group members will often play wrestle and chase each other around the treetops nearby while their parents groom.

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Many times adults will join in play with the young, and simply hold onto a dangling hand or foot of the youngster, who will in turn squeal with joyous play calls and try to wiggle out of their parent's grip.


How do gibbons talk to each other?


Vocalizations by gibbons are referred to as songs and gibbons sing in coordinated patterned sequences called duets. Though females rarely sing alone, males will also sing solo songs at the break of dawn each morning.


Gibbon songs are species-specific, meaning each species has a distinctive sound or sequence of notes in their songs. Songs are also sex-specific because males and female each have distinctive parts in their song patterns.

Like humans, their voices can be quite unique and it iss possible, even for humans, to distinguish the identity of individuals based on their singing style.


Siamangs (Symphalangus syndactylus) are very similar to other gibbons, just bigger! ​​

​​Siamangs are about twice the size of an average gibbon, making them the largest of the small apes. 

​​And they love to sing, LOUDLY!

Siamangs have large inflatable throat sacs to help their voices resonate throughout the forest.

What About Siamangs?
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The small apes are just as great as the big ones.

Learn more about what we're doing to help small apes by:
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the World


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Join our global movement to protect  wild gibbons:
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