Bay Area/ Oakland/ Parks & Nature
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Published on June 05, 2023
Oakland Zoo Welcomes the First Birth of an Endangered White-Handed GibbonOakland Zoo; Steve Goodall

Oakland Zoo, known for championing conservation efforts for a variety of species, recently celebrated the birth of a white-handed gibbon baby, the first of its kind to be born at the zoo according to the San Francisco Chronicle. A product of a four-year courtship between first-time parents Mei and Rainier, the birth of this rare ape signifies a milestone moment for the highly endangered species.

The baby's gender remains unknown as Mei, the mother, is still holding the baby close to her. Being highly endangered, this member of the gibbon family contributes to increasing the number of individuals in their species population. Their affectionate family bond plays a critical role in the success of the gibbon Species Survival Plan (SSP) program as described by the Oakland Zoo.

White-handed gibbons, native to Southeast Asia, face a severe decline in numbers due to deforestation and the pet trade. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed them as endangered, with experts estimating a staggering 50% decrease in their population over the last 40 years. With a unique behavioral trait of forming monogamous and closely bonded mating pairs, the birth of the baby gibbon in Oakland Zoo marks a developing trend towards species breeding success.

The SSP program facilitated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, aims to ensure the sustainability of healthy, genetically diverse, and demographically varied species populations throughout accredited zoos in the US. Mei and Rainier were "matched" as a good breeding pair under this program, leading to their introduction at Oakland Zoo in 2019 after being relocated from other AZA-accredited zoos.

In an effort to support the gibbon family, the animal care staff at Oakland Zoo actively prepared for every possible scenario surrounding the baby's birth. The zoo dedicated time and resources to create the right environment for a successful pregnancy, with zookeepers attending training sessions to anticipate any potential needs. This proactive, multi-step approach has resulted in the successful birth of the baby gibbon, adding to the population of the endangered species.

Mei's maternal care has also contributed to the success of the baby's birth. Protective and attentive, Mei has been seen cradling and nursing her newborn, hiding it from public view.

This new addition to Oakland Zoo's gibbon family has already attracted visitors' attention since gibbons are a prime example of a monogamous primate species, living in nuclear families that resemble human families, consisting of an adult pair and their offspring. The white-handed gibbon baby shares center-stage with its parents in the zoo's Tropical Rainforest area, known as Gibbon Island, where they can be seen daily during normal zoo operating hours.