By Sam Thurman
Hoots, howls, and acrobatic feats was the spectacle at the Gibbons Conservatory when I arrived to work alongside my fellow veterans to assist the faculty of the Gibbons Conservation Center. Such ostentatious acts are to be expected any time strangers enter the field of vision of the vibrant brachiators. But most of these visitors had been there before and did not come to leisurely gawk at the amazing apes; they were there to work; and they did.
The mission was to clear the perimeter fence line of all brush or otherwise flammable material to a distance of 5 feet. As we chopped, raked, and collected the piles of unwanted weeds, the Gibbons would intermittently begin to sing their mellifluous melodies from their respective cages, making the labor more than worthwhile. If you ever get the opportunity to visit the GCC, you will notice that, like most primates, Gibbons are extremely social and tend to express that quality through song and swing. If given your focus, Gibbons will not hesitate to demonstrate their acrobatic prowess in the ostensible hope that you will be impressed, and the odds are that you will be. According to the GCC staff, Gibbons can, “leap distances of 40 feet at speeds of 35mph while 200 feet above the ground.”
If you have never seen or heard about Gibbons before, you may be wondering what distinguishes them from other apes. For starters, Gibbons are arboreal, meaning they naturally reside in trees, and their primary method of mobility is brachiation. They are monogamous (which is rare among primates) and can project their canorous voices up to two miles. Once you see a Gibbon, you are not likely to forget what they look like being that their arms are much longer than their bodies and their faces are ineffably unique.
The Gibbons Conservation Center was established in 1976 by Alan Mootnick and houses the world’s second largest population of Gibbons. They have successfully reproduced 7 gibbon species and have incontrovertibly given much of the endangered family a second chance at survival. Dr. Arenson, Professor of Anthropology at PCC and active member of the GCC, is highly contributive to the publicity and continued success of the conservatory through her contributions as part of the staff as well as allowing students and their families to come and learn more about the rare species. I encourage you all to take advantage of your proximity to our extraordinary cousins and go pay them a visit. You won’t regret it!
For more information about the Gibbons, the conservatory, or how you can help, visit gibboncenter.org