Vietnam's gibbons face extinction: report

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Vietnam's gibbons are headed for extinction unless immediate conservation measures are taken, according to a report released by Fauna & Flora International and Conservation International Monday.

The report titled "Conservation Status of Gibbons in Vietnam" says three of the six species - the cao vit, western black-crested gibbon, and the northern white-cheeked gibbon - are perilously close to extinction, and the remaining three have suffered massive population declines.

It says in the last 10 years gibbons have disappeared from much of their historical range in Vietnam, and the few remaining viable populations are restricted to protected areas that in almost all cases lack the standard of protection needed to ensure their survival.

Hunting and habitat loss have caused these dramatic recent declines. Even in protected areas, illegal logging, farm encroachment, and infrastructure developments (such as dams) are eroding key gibbon habitat, while new roads are making it easier for hunters to access forests.

Habitat loss also causes population fragmentation, leading to ever smaller and more vulnerable subpopulations.

"To thrive, gibbon populations need relatively large tracts of reasonably intact forest and this is increasingly rare in Vietnam," Dr. Ulrike Streicher, wildlife veterinarian and primate program manager of FFI Vietnam, said.

"Although we have seen some local success in gibbon conservation (for example at the Cao Vit Gibbon Conservation Area in Cao Bang Province), a lot more still needs to be done."

Poor awareness and understanding of the plight of gibbons in Vietnam is also contributing towards their decline.

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"The general public and local stakeholders (especially local government)s need to be more aware and supportive of protecting these critically endangered animals," Ben Rawson, CI's regional primatologist for the Greater Mekong Program and coordinator of the Primate Specialist Group, Indochina, said.

The report's findings are merely the tip of the iceberg, flagging deeper and more widespread threats to much of Vietnam's biodiversity and natural environment, according to FFI.

"The geography of Vietnam lends itself to an extraordinary level of biodiversity, and the diversity of gibbons is no exception," Paul Insua-Cao, FFI project manager for gibbon conservation in Laos and Yunnan, China, said.

"Regrettably, the many threats they face in Vietnam are shared by much of the rest of the country's precious wildlife."

"Gibbons are now commonly being reported as locally extinct in Vietnam," Nguyen Manh Ha, researcher at the Centre for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, Vietnam National University, said.

"Unless we take urgent action, our next generation will not have the opportunity to see gibbons in their natural habitat." 

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