WildChina > WildChina Explorer Grant > Tracking Gibbons in Ailaoshan’s Nature Reserve

This fall, our second 2012 WildChina Explorer Grant winners William Bleish and Yan lu will begin their expedition to the Aiolishan range in Yunnan. In January, William visited the region and put together a field report for the China Exploration and Research Society titled The Gibbons Still Sing Here: Return to Ailao Mountain after 25 years. In the paper William discussed the threats to animals in the region as well as providing an excerpt from a morning of gibbon monitoring:

Tracking Gibbons in Ailaoshan's Nature Reserve

In his report, William noted that gibbons are at particular risk from deforestation, forest fires, and climate change. For seven generations, families in Xin Chang village in the Ailaoshan Nature Reserve have helped themselves to wood for fuel to heat their homes and cook their meals. Asking them to change patterns of living that they have followed for over a century has been difficult. In addition to this local need for lumber, forest fires have become an increasing concern as the region experiences its fourth year of devastating spring drought. William explains this dry spell may be linked to the larger issue of global warming. As the earth’s temperature has increased, the areas where gibbons can comfortably survive have shrunk considerably.

Tracking Gibbons in Ailaoshan's Nature Reserve

Despite the looming threats, William was able to catch an ear full from the gibbons on his recent visit to the Ailaoshan Nature Reserve:

“We joined a team from the Xinping nature reserve on their morning gibbon monitoring.  Up at 5:30, we had a quick breakfast in their newly built quarters, part of an exhibition center soon to be opened.  We set off in the dark, stumbling over roots and slipping on the dry leaves as we headed up the mountain to the ridge crest.  As we reached the listening post, the sun was just peaking over the next ridge to the east.  About a half-hour later, at 7:50, we heard a thin high wail from the valley below. Dipping in pitch and ending on a minor note, a male gibbon was beginning his morning song.  After a minute, he repeated his song almost exactly, but this time, two more voices joined in after his prelude.  These were the female members of his group.  Their songs were more rapid, rising in a crescendo of bubbling ecstasy and then descending as if exhausted.  When they had finished, the male added a few notes of coda and the duet song was complete.  At 8:03, we heard a second group singing in the west, this one with only a single female voice, but otherwise a similar song.  The monitors told us they sometimes see these nearer groups in traveling in the forest, swinging hand over hand from their long arms and gracefully catapulting themselves from tree to tree.  We set off in search, but the dry leaves and treacherous trails must have made us too noisy for the wary gibbons. The gibbons and their forest can recover from past destruction, but only if we have the will and vigilance to protect them. In another 25 years, I dream that future visitors will find a healthy forest full of the songs of gibbons.”


WildChina is now accepting applications for our 2013 WildChina Explorer Grant.  If you would like to know more, please click here.

Photos by WildChina and Flora and Fauna

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