The white-handed gibbons of Cha-am

Luigi Zuccante spent many hours observing the gibbons in Cha-am Forest Park and eventually wrote an inspiring book about them.

While they show many anatomical similarities to the other great apes, their way of living as well as behavioural aspects completely differ. Gibbons are not power-hungry like chimpanzees nor are they addicted to sex like bonobos (according to field observations made by Frans de Waal, ethologist and primatologist). Gibbons do not have anything in common with them. In the same way, can we evenly compare a hermit who has retired to the depths of his mountain with a hectic city dweller, working in the midst of a concrete jungle? What about a European and a Hindu? Yet, all of them belong to the human species.

Gibbons are monogamous. They do not engage in much sexual activity with their species. Their philosophy would rather be “everyone in their own home” and “in order to live happily, let’s stay hidden”. They fiercely defend the territory they need, and perhaps this is the only thing which is truly necessary for them to live freely and peacefully. However, the gibbons’ natural habitat is gradually vanishing, leading progressively to their extinction. Their disappearance is already being witnessed in several areas of South-East Asia, where they have always lived.

Different publications show how much significance human beings attach to visible and tangible facts. Observations often allow for comparison with the human society, which thus becomes a benchmark. We are perfectly capable of studying animal societies such as bees, wolves or even chimpanzees. This way, setting a vantage point and spotting interesting interactions and behaviours is rather easy.

There is no such thing with gibbons. In fact, how do you look at an animal living in the canopy above your head, hidden by the foliage and dashing from 50 to 80 kilometres per hour in the branches, making his way deeper into the forest when sensing danger, and frequently moving? If not for their singing which allows spotting and localisation, would they have been discovered? In China, gibbons have been declining little by little. Without any other cousins of their species, they do not sing anymore. As a consequence, it is unknown whether there are still gibbons in this country!

Gibbons seem to be beings apart. They generate our curiosity, together with the desire to know and understand them. They do not try to seduce, yet they seduce thanks to their graceful movements, the depth of their singing, as well as their natural discretion.

This raises questions about the way knowledge is built, since it is usually based on one’s experience of the sensible and tangible world. What, then, is to be done about all the things that are invisible and leave no trace? Surely, scientific advances and increasingly efficient tools will help us go further in order to answer these questions.

The gibbons photographed in this publication are all white-handed gibbons (or lar gibbons) living in a forest near Cha Am in South Thailand.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.