World’s Rarest Primate May Be Saved From Extinction By Rope Bridge

by : Cameron Frew on : 16 Oct 2020 13:01
World's Rarest Primate May Be Saved From Extinction By Rope BridgeWorld's Rarest Primate May Be Saved From Extinction By Rope BridgeKadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden/Facebook

A simple rope bridge could save the world’s rarest primate from extinction. 

Gibbons are associated with swinging through the wilderness. However, with deforestation and other environmental issues, their habitats are under threat.


Such is the case for the apes living on a small patch on China’s Hainan island, where a huge landslide tore through a gap in the forest following Typhoon Rammasun in 2015. From being able to easily traverse their land, the damage makes it harder for the animals to travel for food and companionship.

According to the Zoological Society of London, the Hainan gibbon is the ‘world’s rarest ape, rarest primate, and probably rarest mammal species’. From a population of around 2,000 in the 1950s, experts estimate there’s around 30 left. They’re officially classed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

While things looked stark for a group of nine gibbons on the island, scientists managed to catch them using ropes to travel across a gap once occupied by trees. Professional tree climbers were employed in order to install the artificial bridge.


While some swung across it, others used it as a handrail and a few even managed to walk across the rope. Only one adult male decided against the ropes, opting instead to leap across the gap alongside some other teenage apes.

Hainan GibbonsHainan GibbonsKadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden

Other primates, such as orangutans, have been seen using rope bridges before. However, this marks the first time gibbons have been seen to use rope bridges.

Tremaine Gregory, a conservation biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Center for Conservation and Sustainability, told National Geographic: ‘There are many different designs of canopy bridges used all over the world, but this one is particularly cool because it is simple, low cost, and well adapted to this species.’


Talking to BBC News, Dr. Bosco Chan explained how vital the rope bridge could be in helping gibbon populations on the islands, as well as wider conservation efforts.

Hainan GibbonsHainan GibbonsKadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden

He said: 

When we started work at the reserve, in 2003, we could only find two groups with a total of 13 individuals were left in the entire world. The gibbon population has gradually recovered, with a third and fourth family group formed in 2011 and 2015, respectively.

At the beginning of 2020, we confirmed the formation of the fifth group, and the world population has bounced back to over 30 individuals. It shows the species is slowly recovering, and we should have hope.


Urging the necessity of reforestation in order to save gibbons, he added: ‘We need to make sure we control poaching effectively, expand lowland forest which is the optimal habitat for gibbons, and keep monitoring the gibbon groups to predict and prevent any threats.’

In a bid to prevent the species’ extinction, the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden in Hong Kong is leading conservation efforts. The full findings of the new bridge installation were published in Scientific Reports.

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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BJTC-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and taken up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: Animals, China


National Geographic and 2 others
  1. National Geographic

    Only 30 of these primates remain on Earth. This simple rope bridge may help.

  2. BBC News

    Conservation: Bridge of hope for world's rarest primate

  3. Scientific Reports

    First use of artificial canopy bridge by the world’s most critically endangered primate the Hainan gibbon Nomascus hainanus