Swing into the Gibbon Conservation Center in Saugus to visit their newest addition — a northern white-cheeked female baby gibbon. This species is critically endangered, and with a worldwide population of less than 1,000, this birth is considered pretty special.
The baby girl was born on Saturday, June 8, to her mother, Asteriks, who is from Belgium, and father, Pierre, who is from France.
Since she was born, she’s spent most of her days just like a human baby would — clinging to her mother and either sleeping or eating.
She can even hang on in her sleep while her mother swings through their enclosure, and she’ll spend the next couple of months doing just that, until she’s ready to begin exploring and taking her own first swings.
“Around three or four months of age, she will start climbing, just practicing, but she will continue nursing until she’s about 2 and a half,” said Gabi Skollar, the center’s director.
Gibbons live in pairs, or couples, and are very similar to human families, according to Skollar.
“The mother will provide primary care, breastfeeding, holding, while the dad interacts with the offspring, grooms them, shares food with them, and play and play and play,” Skollar said. “But they have different personalities, so we have fathers who will hold the baby sometimes and other fathers are fascinated with the baby.”
Families typically stay together until the children are fully grown and ready to be paired with a mate, Skollar added.
The baby’s 7-year-old brother, Nate, who is housed in a nearby enclosure, is getting ready to be introduced to his new mate, Pepper.
“This is very good that he can see his younger sister, gently touch her and interact with her,” Skollar said. “Mom let him touch and groom the baby, and he’s very interested, which is a good sign that he’s going to be a good dad.”
The northern white-cheeked gibbons are different colors — males are black with white cheeks and females are orange with a black spot on the top of their heads.
“The baby is born the same color as the mother, so she blends in with the mom and it’s hard to see her (for protection in the wild),” Skollar said. “As they get older, they slowly turn black. So, by the time the little girl is a year and a half, she’s going to be black. Then, when the female is around 6 and a half to 7 years old, they go through a second color change and go back to orange.”
When the females have completely turned orange, it is a signal that they’re ready to begin mating, according to Skollar.
Though they look like monkeys, gibbons are actually small apes, and spend most of their time in the treetops of the rainforest in southeast Asia. Unfortunately, almost every one of the 20 species of gibbons is threatened by extinction.
That is why the center has been working to preserve the rest of that population since its founding in 1976 by primatologist Alan Richard Mootnick. Today, the center is home to five different species and more than 40 gibbons.
Gibbons are known as the most acrobatic apes, swinging from tree to tree at speeds of up to 35 mph (the same speed as a galloping racehorse) and bridging gaps as wide as 50 feet with a single leap, according to Skollar.
They’re also often referred to as the “songbirds of the primate family,” according to the center. Every morning at sunrise, you’ll hear the songs begin as they sing to mark their territory, Skollar said.
The adult male and female will typically sing a duet, and their children will join in, according to Skollar. And while the couples harmonize, they are, in fact, each singing different songs.
“As they sing in a duet, it strengthens their pair bond because they have to practice and coordinate different parts of the song,” Skollar said.
The baby girl doesn’t have a name, yet, and the center is planning to let the public name her through a live auction scheduled for Saturday, July 20. The center will be showing a screening of a new gibbon documentary, and afterward, will auction off the chance to name the baby, according to Skollar.
The Gibbon Conservation Center is open to the public each Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to noon for a fee of $15 per adult, $10 seniors, $12 students and teens, $5 kids ages 5-12, and free for those younger than 5. The center is located at 19100 Esguerra Road in Saugus.
For more information, visit gibboncenter.org or call the center at 661-296-2737.