Crested gibbons are the world's most endangered primates, and the world needs to take action immediately if we are to save these lesser apes from extinction, according to scientists who spoke last week at the International Primatological Society Congress in Kyoto, Japan.

There are just seven species of crested gibbon, all of which are endangered. Rarest of the rare is the Hainan gibbon (Nomascus hainanus), which numbers just 20 apes living in two family groups on China's Hainan Island. The Hainan gibbon's closest relative is the cao vit gibbon (N. nasutus nasutus) from Vietnam, which has about 100 individuals remaining.

All of the crested gibbons face a wide range of threats, including habitat loss, hunting and the pet trade.

According to Fauna and Flora International (FFI), the organization whose surveys informed the report, gibbon research is underfunded compared with that of great apes such as gorillas and orangutans. FFI is calling for new projects to protect crested gibbons, and says it and other organizations will need "continuous investment" to ensure the apes' survival.

By the way, one of the seven crested gibbon species has only just been described by science. The northern buffed-cheeked gibbon (N. annamensis) that inhabits the tropical rainforests of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia was identified by its unique song and genome, which distinguished it from the nearly identical yellow-cheeked gibbon (N. gabriellae). The discovery, made by researchers from the German Primate Center, was recently published in the Vietnamese Journal of Primatology, Vol. 1, Issue 4; undated (not available online).

Photo: Hainan gibbon by Bill Bleisch, courtesy of Fauna and Flora International