China's Hainan bolsters protection efforts to safeguard endangered gibbons

(Xinhua) 14:20, August 24, 2023

HAIKOU, Aug. 24 (Xinhua) -- As Li Wenyong hunkered down under a tree and adjusted his camera, several daring Hainan gibbons hung their bodies upside down and touched his head and equipment with their hands.

Li, 53, is a forest ranger at the National Park of Hainan Tropical Rainforest in south China's Hainan Province. He resides in Miao Village of Qingsong Township, which is under the jurisdiction of Baisha Li Autonomous County. It is the nearest village to the park's Bawangling area, which is the habitat of the Hainan gibbons.

In addition to patrolling the mountains, he is also responsible for monitoring the gibbons. Every day at the break of dawn, Li prepares some water and food and embarks on his journey into the mountains. His job is to find and observe Hainan gibbons based on their sounds, and record the mammals' latest situation with a camera and pen.

Hainan gibbons, which live in rainforest trees over 10 meters high, rarely set foot on the ground out of prudence. The black-crested apes can only be found in the rainforests in Hainan.

Known as the world's rarest primate, Hainan gibbons have been listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In the 1950s, the Hainan gibbon population stood at over 2,000. However, their numbers took a dramatic nosedive in the 1980s, dwindling to just about seven. This alarming decline pushed them to the brink of extinction.

In recent years, thanks to growing protection efforts, their population has risen. Latest official figures show that the gibbon population has increased to 37, consisting of six families in the island province.

Li used to be a farmer. He recalls that decades ago, local villagers began to open up land in the mountains because they had no land of their own. The situation led to forests being cut down, and the habitat of Hainan gibbons was threatened. The gibbons retreated deeper into the mountains. In 2010, Li was hired by an animal and plant research organization to help find and record Hainan gibbons. The gibbons' long arms, dark faces and their interesting hair left Li feeling intrigued.

Li was both nervous and scared the first time he saw the Hainan gibbons up close.

"I was nervous because I was afraid that they would hide, and I would not be able to record them properly," he said. "I was also worried about poachers."

Li loves listening to the sounds of the gibbons. They give a warning call when encountering a flying squirrel. They make a warning sound to remind family members to stay alert when they see an eagle atop a tree. Every morning, the male apes sound the "assembly horn" to gather everyone before setting out for food.

"Without protection, this species would be extinct and never seen again," Li said.

In order to protect Hainan gibbons, Hainan authorities have launched relocation projects, with residents in the mountains moving out to give their living space to the gibbons.

Hainan has also seen more than 266.7 hectares of the gibbons' habitat restored through afforestation, and more than 300,000 tree species planted as food for the gibbons.

Local forestry authorities have set up special monitoring teams, with many rangers going into the rainforests and devoting all their energy to the protection of Hainan gibbons.

Over the past 13 years, Li Wenyong has taken 100,000 pictures of Hainan gibbons. He had one of them printed out and posted in the center of a wall in his living room. It is a picture of a Hainan gibbon family of three looking for food in a tree, one of Li's favorite pictures.

"I will guard them forever, until my legs can no longer run," Li said.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


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