Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching, and love is certainly in the air at the Oakland Zoo—this time on the Zoo’s Gibbon Island.
Gibbons mate for life, and when the Oakland Zoo’s resident white handed gibbon, Nikko, lost his mate to a medical illness last year, zookeepers knew they needed to search for the “right” companion for him. While zookeepers tried to help him through the transition by providing plenty of new enrichment in his exhibit, the primate had not been his cheerful self since the passing of his mate. Nikko’s morning songs, made up mostly of whoops and calls, had become unusually silent.
Then came news about 12-year-old, grape-loving, Gladys, a blonde-haired Texan gibbon, residing at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas. She was in need of relocation. After careful consideration, Oakland Zoo officials worked out the proper paperwork with Gladys Porter zookeepers, and arrangements were made to move Gladys to Oakland. After a 30-day quarantine period and proper introductions, zookeepers hope Gladys and her honey-colored coat will win over longtime resident Gibbon, Nikko. So far, the pairing has gone well, and zookeepers are optimistic the couple will continue to do well together.
Upon matching up the couple, there seemed to be a “love connection” of sorts. Visitors and keepers have witnessed the two gibbons hugging, which is a great sign the two are getting along well. Gladys has also started grooming Nikko, and she’s singing her duet part in their morning songs. Zookeepers are thrilled with how their matchmaking is panning out.
“Prior to living at the Gladys Porter Zoo, Gladys had been privately owned,” said Margaret Rousser, Keeper at the Oakland Zoo. “As is the case with nearly all pet primates, she was quickly given up when her owners found she was too difficult to handle. Gladys is very lucky that she now has the opportunity to live with another gibbon.”
Gibbons lesser apes from southeast Asia. Their locomotion is primarily brachiation. Gibbons are one of the few truly monogamous primate species. They live in nuclear families that are very similar to human families of an adult pair and their offspring. They demonstrate their bond by grooming, sharing food, and singing together. Each species has a unique duet that they sing and the male and female each have their own parts to sing. Lar gibbons have a wide range of color variations, just like humans can have a wide range of hair colors. Gladys represents the lighter end of the spectrum, and Nikko represents the darker end.
Gibbons are endangered due to deforestation and the pet trade. Many of the same issues that affect orangutans (such as palm oil) also affect gibbons. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed them as endangered based on the belief that their numbers have decreased by more than 50 percent in the last 40 years.
Contributing Writer: Nicky Mora, Oakland Zoo