Primate researchers have identified a new species of gibbon living in the tropical rain forests between Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
The new rare and endangered ape species - the northern buffedcheeked gibbon (Nomascus annamensis) was identified by scientists from the German Primate Center (DPZ), the center said in a statement last week.
"The discovery of a new species of ape is a minor sensation," Christian Roos of DPZ said. "An analysis of the frequency and tempo of their calls, along with genetic research, show that this is, in fact, a new species."
According to the DPZ statement, the German-American-Vietnamese research team led by Roos has now been able to identify a seventh species that live high up in the canopy.
Crested gibbons are only found in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and southern China. Until now, it has been assumed that there are six different sub-species, their territories separated by rivers.
A monogamous species that live in the tree tops of tropical jungles, crested gibbons are among the most endangered primate species in the world.
"Scientists suspect their song serves to defend territory or might even be a precursor of the music humans make," the DPZ statement said.
Gibbons, like orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos, belong to the apes, humanity's closest relatives. They are also called lesser apes due to their smaller size.
While the females exhibit an orange-yellow pelt, adult males are black and have the characteristic crest and some species have light-colored cheeks.
What they all have in common are long arms and the ability to brachiates, that is, to swing with great accuracy over considerable distances from branch to branch.
Determining gibbon species is particularly difficult, as they live high up in the canopy. "Instead, we collected the droppings from the animals in order to read the genetic information available in their intestinal cells," said Roos, describing the arduous fieldwork in the jungle.
"Knowledge of their biology and exact distributions is essential for effectively protecting the animals. Only if we know where which species is found and how many individuals there are can we start with serious conservation actions."
The gibbon is the fourteenth species of primate discovered and described by the Biodiversity of Primates Network, a collaborative effort by scientists at the German Primate Center.