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  • Writer's pictureIsaac yelchin

You gotta be Gibbon me!

Locking eyes with a Gibbon is a surreal experience. Their big bright eyes carry the same weight, depth, and thought as any human. You can also see a small sparkle of creativity, humor, and inquisitiveness as they acknowledge these facets in your own eyes. The feeling is strange because it seems like you are looking at an equal, just one with a bit more hair, sharp teeth, exceptionally long arms, and a tiny two foot tall body.

Lucia & baby Winkie Northern White-Cheeked Gibbons

Gibbons are the smallest primates, but their character is far from tiny. They bounce and swing around singing their incredible song, then suddenly stop completely still to stare at you. I presume they are wondering why you are not flying from branch to branch howling. This is often short lived and the ruckus begins again.

Howard a Pileated Gibbon

My entire experience with Gibbons has been at the Gibbon Conservation Center (GCC), in which there are over forty individuals from a number of different species. With wonderful care they are adding new faces, including the new baby boy Winkie. Who was born this month and inspired me to bring you more information on the Gibbons today. My absolute favorite thing about these buoyant little primates is their intense individual personality.

Anastasia a Northern White-Cheeked Gibbon

Each Gibbon is entirely different from the next. The GCC has named each Gibbon, and when I remember the names, a face, character, and personality comes to mind. For example Pierre, one of the male Northern White-Cheeked Gibbons is a bit of a ladies man. In fact, it's to such an extent that he cannot tolerate any potential male competitors, including humans. I was warned to stay far back from his enclosure as his stress becomes so great when a male is nearby that he will refuse to eat his food and scream his head off.

Pierre a Northern White-Cheeked Gibbon

However, Pierre has no issues with ladies coming right up and handing him fruits and veggies. Even twenty feet back, I was quite the nuisance to him. He made a massive fuss sprinting back and forth making bubbling calls and furrowing his brow in my direction. Of course, as I walked away I took a look back and saw him happily settle in with his family having successfully fended me off.

Pierre getting a good stretch in

Another one of the vivacious personalities is Goliath, who always took a curiosity in toys and play. He would make an excellent baseball player if the MLB took on Gibbons. When I first visited him I couldn’t see where he was, and then all of a sudden a red ball came flying out of nowhere and bounced on the ground, then thundering from above came Goliath. He pounced on the ball and chucked it in the air, spinning around to catch it again. Then turned towards us with a big toothy smile, and in Gibbonese, said “did you see that?”

Goliath a Javan Gibbon with his favorite ball

These creatures are really one of a kind, and their personality is exuberant. They also have something I am deeply envious of. Humans have an unfortunate quality of being overly self aware and a desire to constantly try to act cool. In my opinion this is a stunningly lame trait. Gibbons on the other hand, have no need for such lunacy and live their lives free from shame. Their actions are all completely heartfelt. Their glee is true and so is their sadness. Their humor and ponderance as well, it allows them to be completely true to their emotions. If we could learn anything from the Gibbons it would be this freedom. I have tried to live my life in the same way as the Gibbons and have felt all the better for it.

Goliath sporting his swinging style

I am still working on my ability to swing through trees gracefully and have sustained a few blisters in my attempt, but I have felt much freer to express my emotions and thoughts. I recommend you try and live life like the Gibbons too, you will find that you enjoy every second just that little bit more.

Goliath is really handsome too!!

Go and see Pierre, Goliath, baby Winkie, and all the others for yourself by taking a tour of the GCC. You can also volunteer as they always can use more hands, or conduct a research project if you have something you want to study. The link is here:

Pepper a female Northern White-Cheeked Gibbon. See Pierre above and pay attention to the color difference between Males and Females of this species.

All stunning photos provided by the Gibbon Conservation center.

Isaac Yelchin is foremost a herpetologist. He studies lizards, frogs, newts, and the like. Specifically, he spends all day and night thinking about what it is like to be an animal. What are the animals thinking about? What is their perspective? When he should be working, he sits and stares at his pet lizard asking himself these questions.

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