German-led scientists find new ape species in Asian jungle | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 22.09.2010
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German-led scientists find new ape species in Asian jungle

A team of researchers from the German Primate Center has discovered a new species of the gibbon ape in the jungles of southeast Asia. The animal was given away by its peculiar call.

A male northern buffed-cheeked gibbon

The northern buffed-cheeked gibbon was thought to be part of another species

The newly-discovered northern buffed-cheeked gibbon, Nomascus annamensis, lives in the tropical rain forests between Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, according to research presented by the German Primate Center.

The scientists said that the ape's unusual calls, which are set apart from others by their tempo and frequency, in addition to genetic research, proved the animal was a new species.

"The discovery of a new species of ape is a minor sensation," said Christian Roos, head of the German-American-Vietnamese research team. The team's findings were published in the 2010 Vietnamese Journal of Primatology.

Roos' team collected the animals' droppings to analyze the genetic data that came from intestinal cells to determine that the southern white-cheeked gibbon (Nomascus siki) was, in fact, two species: the newly identified northern buffed-cheeked gibbon and the southern white-cheeked gibbon.

Scientists suspect the animals' calls are used to defend territory and may possibly even represent an early version of human music.

Among world's most endangered species

A female northern buffed-cheeked gibbon

Females are orange-beige in color and lack the males' "punk hairdo"

In addition to orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos, gibbons are among the superfamily of apes, which represent the closest animal relative to humans. While orangutans and gorillas belong to the family of greater apes, the smaller gibbons are part of the lesser apes and live high in the jungle canopy.

Gibbons are among the world's most endangered primates. Scientists estimate that just 20 Hainan gibbons exist and other species and subspecies are also endangered, with some populations reaching only about 100 animals, the German Primate Center said in a statement.

Illegal hunting is partly to blame for the apes' decline in numbers. Gibbons are sometimes kept as pets, are eaten, or are processed as an ingredient in traditional medicines. Loss of forest habitat to make way for farming, gold mines, and charcoal production also threaten the apes.

"Knowledge of their biology and exact distributions is essential for effectively protecting the animals," Roos said. "Only if we know where which species is found and how many individuals there are, can we start with serious conservation actions."

Author: Sean Sinico (dpa, AFP)

Editor: Susan Houlton

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