Wellington Zoo joins gibbon conservation programme

Vilson and Robyn, northern white-cheeked gibbons at Wellington Zoo (supplied)
Vilson and Robyn, northern white-cheeked gibbons at Wellington Zoo (supplied)

Wellington Zoo is joining an international venture to help save critically endangered white-cheeked gibbons in the wild.

The Fauna and Flora International Vietnam Programme aims to improve conservation of the apes through improved protection of key areas in Pu Mat National Park -- with about 455 individual animals, this area is home to the only known viable population of white-cheeked gibbons left in the world.

 "We're excited to be igniting conservation action as a founding partner in this new project to save white-cheeked gibbons in the wild," says Daniela Biaggio, Wellington Zoo's conservation manager.

"The morning chorus of our two gibbons, Robyn and Vilson, is an iconic feature at Wellington Zoo, and it will now be a cheer for the efforts we are making to save their species in the wild."

The number of white-cheeked gibbons in the wild has dropped by more than 80 percent over the last 45 years, primarily due to hunting and habitat loss. They are functionally extinct in China and populations elsewhere are severely depleted.

Without effective conservation efforts, it is likely that most Vietnamese populations will be lost in the near future.

 "Now more than ever, conservation organisations need to work together to save animals in the wild," says Ms Biaggio.

"By collaborating with Perth Zoo and Taronga Zoo as the main funding consortium for this targeted project, our collective efforts will make a difference for the animals and the community surrounding Pu Mat National Park. The area is a hotspot of biodiversity, so protecting the park will save not only Gibbons, but also other endangered animals like Indochinese tigers and Indian elephants."

The Fauna and Flora International Vietnam Programme will focus on reducing hunting, working with the government, park rangers and the local community to help enforce protection of the forest.

The project will establish a smart patrol system that aims to equip park rangers and managers with information technology to better protect areas, boost their morale, and be proud of their duty. They will be provided  with technical support to use SMART, an open-source software developed by the conservation community which provides advanced analysis and reporting of patrol data and intelligence to better plan enforcement activities to protect wild animals.

 "Engaging local communities living in the 'buffer zone' of the protected area with forest protection activities like forest patrols and snare removals will create job opportunities, which will also be supported through environmental education in key villages," says Ms Biaggio.

"We've committed to a long-term investment to make sure that the numbers of wild northern white-cheeked gibbons can increase and be brought back from brink of extinction so that the gibbons' song can be heard in the wild for generations to come."

The Fauna and Flora International Vietnam Programme will assess enforcement performance of Pu Mat National Park and provide technical support to implement SMART enforcement approaches, allowing for adaptive management.