By Michele Lutes
Signal Staff Writer
There aren’t many places on earth quite like the Gibbon Conservation Center right here in the Santa Clarita Valley.
At this special location off Bouquet Canyon Road, those carrying on a legacy work to provide Santa Clarita Valley’s residents and visitors the opportunity to connect with a population whom those living in suburban Los Angeles County would otherwise never see.
The Gibbon Conservation Center held its Gibbon-Fest fundraiser Saturday, raising more than $3,000 to help care for and feed the gibbons. But perhaps more than that, with each exposure, those working to further the studies of the late Alan Mootnick share a better understanding of the gibbon, and how close we really are to the vocal and communicative primates.
“We have two every year,” said Gabriella Skollar, director of the Gibbon Conservation Center, who worked under Mootnick for years. “We want to raise funds to run this place, but this is also a way to outreach to the community.”
The center houses five species of gibbons out of the 19-20 species in the world, Skollar said.
During the event, guests were able to tour the center, drink beer, enjoy food, lawn games and watch the gibbons enjoy their afternoon meals.
Silent auction items were on display to also help raise money for the center and guests were able to stay the night to hear the gibbons in the morning.
Guests stayed on a hill overlooking the property, said Alma Rodriguez, operations and development manager at the Gibbon Conservation Center. “(The Gibbons) sing at dawn. We wanted to give people the opportunity to hear them.”
“It’s a one-of-a-kind place,” said SCV resident Karla Edwards. She takes all her out of town guests to take tours of the center, and when she heard the center could use donations, she reached out to others.
Mike Roberts of Oakridge Landscape donated and planted a tree at the Gibbon Conservation Preserve, Edwards said.
Supporting the gibbons
One of the center’s more recent fundraising goals has been a new house for the gibbons inside their SCV home.
The center is looking to build a brand new enclosed structure specifically designed for the gibbons’ unique way of moving. The new structure will hopefully help introduce two northern white-cheeked gibbons, Pepper and Nate, to each other, according Rodriguez.
“There are only about 1,000 left of them in the world,” Rodriguez said regarding the northern white-cheeked gibbons. “We’re going to introduce Pepper and Nate: They were both born here, and we want to pair them off together. They’re part of a species survival plan.”
Pepper and Nate are genetically different from each other, which makes them prime candidates to pair off in order to create a diverse offspring, according to Rodriguez.
The new structure being designed for the center is being priced at around $100,000, and the center is looking for donations and fundraising options to meet that goal by the end of October.
“The actual design came from Brent Hoerner Structural engineering,” Rodriguez said. “He came out, he watched the gibbons and he proposed the design to us. We loved it. We told him to go forward with it.”
So far, the center had raised $20,000 as of about mid-August, much of which had come from the Henry Mayo Newhall Foundation through a donation.
A legacy and its importance
All species of gibbons are considered endangered, and places like the Gibbon Conservation Center are making an effort to stop the decline through repopulation efforts and awareness events.
“When people see this firsthand and with their own eyes, they have a new appreciation and it sticks with them throughout their day,” Rodriguez said. “They build a connection with the gibbons. They are very similar to humans. They live in families with a mom, dad, offspring. They all have unique upbringings and personalities. That resonates more with people and they care a little more.”
“Our mission is to promote the conservation study and care of gibbons through public education and habitat preservation,” Rodriguez said.
The center was founded in 1976 and moved to its current location in 1980, said Skollar, who’s originally from Hungary and started volunteering at the center in 2005.
Alan Mootnick, who died at age 60 in 2011, established the center and became known as one of the world’s foremost experts on gibbons, thanks to his research and published articles that shed light on the small Southeast Asian apes.
“We need volunteers, so if people have extra time, they can come and help out. Everybody who works here today, started as a volunteer,” she said.
“Gibbons are so similar to us,” she added. “They live in family groups, the way they interact with each other, they sing duets, and are so easy to relate to them. That’s why I love it.”
The center is located off of Bouquet Canyon Road, at 19100 Esguerra Road, and open every Saturday and Sunday. For more information on the Gibbons Conservation Center, visit gibboncenter.org.
Those wishing to donate to the center can visit its website at www.gibbon