Funky gibbons

Hi folks,

I'm working on a large feature and I want to break the back of it over the weekend. So as a ittle bit diversion, I wanted to share with you two awesome videos that I took last weekend of gibbons moving with characteristic and incredible agility at Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens in Suffolk. Gibbons were one of the highlights of David Attenborough's Life of Mammals, and I was utterly captivated by footage of them monkeyi... er.. apeing about in trees, swinging through the canopy at high speed. (There's a second video and some commentary after the jump)

This style of movement, known as brachiating, is a gibbon trademark. It's made possible by a physical innovation that among primates, is (again) unique to gibbons - a ball-and-socket joint in their wrist. This allows the animal's entire body to swivel effortlessly about the hand during a swing, as the gibbons in these videos aptly demonstrate. The ones in the first video above are lar or white-handed gibbons, and the black ones in the second video are siamangs, the largest and most vocal of the gibbons.

Thrigby Hall is a small zoo devoted mostly to Asian wildlife and despite its size, it's one of the most appealing zoos I've had the pleasure to visit. The animals have large and complex enclosures to move around in, that have the right balance of stimulating environments and shelter (the gibbons in the shot look like they're in a small cage, but that's just one part of a series of connected enclosures).

Even better, viewing platforms cleverly encircle the areas so that visitors get the best possible views of the animals, including a walkway that takes you over the tiger pen. The gardens are home to tigers, snow leopards, babirusa, red pandas, porcupines, otters, caiman, mugger crocodiles, golden cats, clouded leopards, crested macaques, a variety of bird species, and the extremely rare Amur leopard. If you're ever in the area, I highly recommend paying them a visit.

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Cool! The arboreal acrobatics of gibbons are certainly impressive, although I'm sure whatever you saw at the zoo doesn't compare to what they can do in their forest homes.

My primatology professor last semester actually studied gibbons in Borneo and expressed how difficult it was to keep up with them. They can move much faster in the trees than you can on the ground, so until they become acclimated it's essentially a race to try and keep track of them.

Some years ago, I was privilged to be at the gibbon enclosure in the Brookfield Zoo after hours. It was a spectacle and I was impressed. I understand that broken bones in gibbons are not uncommon. The gibbon skeleton we had at the university had a healed break in one of the forearm bones.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 20 May 2008 #permalink