Gibbons avoid crossing water, and major rivers usually separate each gibbon species in the wild. To drink, they dip their hands in water or rub their fur against wet leaves, then slurp up the water.
Where at the Zoo
Where in the World
White-cheeked gibbons are one of eleven species of gibbon and critically endangered. These long-armed apes are made for life in the trees, suspending their bodies and swinging easily from one hold to another. Instead of grasping, their hands form a loose hook around branches, allowing them to move swiftly through the canopy.
What They Eat
Where They Live
What They Do
How They’re Doing
Where at the Zoo
Where in the World
Gibbons are not monkeys, they’re small apes. Apes don’t have tails while monkeys do. They also have a flatter, more human-like face, larger bodies, and their young develop more slowly than other primates.
Care at the Zoo
Enrichment enhances the well-being of zoo animals by stimulating natural behaviors and giving animals the opportunity to react to changes in their environment. Introducing new foods, smells, sights, sounds, or objects into their exhibit are all ways to provide enrichment. When designing enrichment programs, zookeepers look at the behaviors and abilities unique to each species and how each species interacts with its natural environment.
Primates are generally highly social animals and interacting with their own species is essential to their mental well-being. In addition to their social interactions as a pair, the zoo’s gibbons share their exhibit with several species of birds. This provides them with extra stimulation as they share space with animals just as they would in the wild.
In the wild, gibbons spend a lot of time foraging for food. Keepers provide dietary enrichment by supplementing the gibbons' main diet with novel food items. The gibbons are given yogurt covered raisins, dried fruits, cereals, and special treats like “monkey brownies,” “gibbon patties,” and “gibbon cupcakes.” Other stimulating foods include: willow or bamboo branches, jelly, applesauce, oatmeal paste smeared on branches in their exhibit, and healthy popsicles made with juice blends.
Training provides mental stimulation for the animals and helps to reduce stress associated with moves or vet check-ups. Tia and Bailey have both been trained by our keepers using operant conditioning techniques. When they respond correctly to a request from their trainers, favorite foods from their diet, such as bananas, figs, and grapes, are given to them as a means of reinforcing the desired behavior.
Exhibit design provides our gibbons with physical enrichment. To allow them to show off their acrobatic abilities, gibbon island is designed with branching trees and swaying vines-similar to the natural features found in their native habitat.Primates have active minds, and our gibbons enjoy toys for human infants and toddlers (like rattles, baby keys, plastic blocks), as well as dog toys like Kongs and Holee Rollers. The zoo also purchases unique toys made just for zoo primates, some with strange names like “Astrotube Feeder” (a PVC tube covered in Astroturf ) or the “Sway N Play Feeder” (a toy that can be filled with treats and wobbles when touched).
Meet the Animals“Bailey”
Bailey, our male gibbon, was born March 1, 1994, at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. His mother died when he was 2 years old and he continued to live with his father and a sibling until October of 2001, when at age 7, he was moved to the Minnesota Zoo.
How to recognize him:
Tia is our female gibbon. She was born October 21, 1996, here at the Minnesota Zoo, and was the last offspring born to the zoo’s original pair of gibbons, Archie and Edith. (Yes, they were named after the Bunkers.) Tia’s mom was a terrific mother, having successfully reared 6 offspring, 3 males and 3 females. Unfortunately, as her mother’s last offspring, Tia was never able watch her mother give birth and care for another infant, and she never got the opportunity to baby-sit a younger sibling. This lack of maternal experience will make it more challenging for her to become a successful parent.
How to recognize her:
Bailey was originally acquired by the Minnesota Zoo in the hopes of being paired with our female Tia, who was just reaching maturity herself at the time he arrived. White-cheeked gibbons are endangered, and any offspring successfully birthed and reared in captivity is important to the conservation efforts for their species.
When Bailey was introduced to the island with Tia and her mom, Tia was very interested in him, but their relationship was more of siblings than a mated pair. After the death of Tia’s mother in the summer of 2002, Bailey began to show more breeding interest in Tia and their pair bond strengthened.
The white-cheeked gibbon is one of the world’s most endangered species of gibbon. Major threats to this species are habitat loss due to logging, illegal hunting for use in traditional medicines, and capture of young for the pet trade. Many zoos are participating in breeding programs for white-cheeked gibbons in an effort to expand the captive population. Conservation programs in the wild are needed in order to protect the current wild population.
People are working to save gibbons in Minnesota and around the world. The former Minnesota Zoo Conservation Director, Ron Tilson, spent two and a half years studying the social behavior of the Mentawai Island gibbons as part of his doctoral thesis. The focus of his research was how gibbon families form and how their unique calls help families bond and maintain their territories.
The Minnesota Zoo is a member of the Gibbon Species Survival Plan (SSP), which manages all species of gibbons in North American zoos. When the zoo opened in 1978, its first gibbon pair had been orphaned in the wild, still a common fate for young gibbons. Representing wild genes, they were very important to increasing gene diversity in zoos. Sine 1981, this pair has successfully birthed 4 gibbons that have gone into the SSP pool. Their legacy lives on through cooperative breeding efforts in zoos across the country.
Gibbons are small arboreal apes that live in the upper canopy of the lowland rainforests of Southeast Asia. The white-cheeked gibbon is one of eleven species of gibbons and one of the most endangered. Well adapted for life in the forest, these long-armed primates swing effortlessly from branch to branch, and are one of the fastest and most acrobatic of all tree-dwelling primates.
Adult males and females are easily distinguished by color. Males are all black with white cheek patches, while females are buff or cream-colored with a black spot on the top of the head. All baby white-cheeked gibbons are buff color like their mother’s body. By their first birthday both males and females turn black. It is not until maturity that females once again change color back to buff.
Range and Habitat