Endangered Northern white-cheeked Gibbon is born at Twycross Zoo

The world renowned primate centre Twycross Zoo in the East Midlands announced the birth of a northern white-cheeked gibbon (Nomascus leucogenys) which was born at the zoo on Tuesday 18th April 2017 and is the first infant northern white-cheeked gibbon to be born in Europe this year.

The new arrival, who is yet to be named, is in the safe hands of experienced parents, as he or she is the fifth offspring of mother Kampuchea (born at Oregon Zoo, USA in 1994, and arrived at Twycross Zoo in 2000) and father Earl (born at Mulhouse Zoo, France in 1992, and moved to Twycross Zoo in 1997). 

Northern white-cheeked gibbons are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, so the new infant is a crucial step forward in helping to conserve this species. 

Dr Charlotte Macdonald, Director of Life Sciences explains: “The main threat facing this species in the wild is habitat loss, as their natural habitats – the wild forests of South East Asia – are often converted into farmland or used for fuel wood. Our new infant is a fantastic addition to Twycross Zoo, and in time will play a key role in the European conservation breeding programme, especially given its species’ critically endangered status.” 

The European conservation breeding programme is designed to help ensure the future survival of endangered species, such as the four species of gibbon living at Twycross Zoo. As part of these programmes, three gibbons born at the zoo left last year to join new mates in other countries: Sky, an agile gibbon, joined a male in Plock Zoo, Poland; Eric, a northern white-cheeked gibbon (brother to the new baby), joined a female in Dierenrijk Zoo in the Netherlands; and female northern white-cheeked gibbon Elliott (sister of the new arrival) joined a male in Frankfurt Zoo, Germany. 

Twycross Zoo also supports gibbon conservation in the wild by supporting Fauna & Flora International’s Cao Vit Gibbon Project. Cao Vit gibbons live on the border between north-east Vietnam and southern China, in an area which is roughly 6% of the size of Birmingham. Fauna and Flora International are working to protect this species so they can remain and thrive in their natural habitat. This work includes liaising with local people to find more sustainable ways to use the land, which so far has resulted in a slight increase in gibbon numbers.

Gibbons live in monogamous pairs, so Kampuchea and Earl will rear the new infant together until the infant is mature, which usually takes place when they reach six to eight years of age. The gender of the infant is still unknown; all northern white-cheeked gibbons are born a cream colour, but males turn black with their trademark white cheeks when they reach two years old, and females, although they also turn black at this age, return to a mostly cream colour once they reach sexual maturity between the ages of six and eight years old. 

Last year Twycross Zoo opened a new home for its gibbons: the state of the art £2million Gibbon Forest, one of the largest gibbon facilities in Europe and the second phase in Twycross Zoo’s 20 year £55million Masterplan. Gibbon Forest is home to four different gibbon species, who each live on four different designated islands with access to high ropes, trees and other interactive objects, allowing them to swing faster and sing louder than ever before. 

Dr Charlotte Macdonald concludes: “This time of year is always associated with new life, so what better way to celebrate spring than with the new arrival of a northern white-cheeked gibbon? Our many visitors will be able to see the new baby growing up and learning to swing with its group in Gibbon Forest, which will be a fantastic experience!” 

Visitors wanting to welcome the new-born gibbon into the world will also be able to check the progress of the young Bornean orangutan baby, which was born at the end of March at Twycross Zoo. Both babies are an important addition to the international breeding programmes designed to save these critically endangered species of South East Asia where their natural habitat is destroyed to make way for palm oil production.