The Curious Hoolock Gibbon

If you are brave enough to explore the wilds of Bangladesh, you will soon become aware of a variety of monkeys and apes watching you from the tree-tops. One of these creatures may particularly catch your eye. The Hoolock Gibbon (Bunopithecus hoolock) is a small ape that has the distinction of being the only ape on the subcontinent.

Many people often mistake the Hoolock Gibbon for being a monkey – mainly because of its small size and mischievous appearance. However the Hoolock Gibbon is actually a small arboreal ape and if you look closely, you will see that it does not have a tail and that its hands have opposable thumbs. The arms of these unusual apes are also longer than their legs and it is these that they use to maneuver skillfully through the trees. The males have a black coat with very visible white eyebrows and it is these devilish-looking little creatures which you usually spot first. Females are often much lighter in color, with grayish brown or gold-colored coats and a similar body size and shape. The young of the Hoolock Gibbon are born with white fur which gradually darkens as they age. The average Hoolock Gibbon is 60-90 centimeters in length and may way as much as 7 kilograms.

These apes are usually found in semi-deciduous or evergreen forests at an elevation of 1400 meters and though they are found in a number of places on the Indian sub-continent, a large portion of their habitat falls within the boundaries of Bangladesh. Their main source of nutrition is fruit though they may also eat leaves, flowers, insects and spiders. They are diurnal and prefer to retire to the shade of various trees during the hotter parts of the day.

Though they live in trees, the Hoolock Gibbon is quite adept at walking in an upright position when on the ground. They may live in a small family group with between two and six members with deep social bonds and lots of interaction between the different members of the group. Males will defend their territory by a number of territorial songs and grunts.

At one time, this fascinating ape was widespread in eastern India but now hunting and habitat loss has left them an endangered species. So if you are fortunate enough to see one when you visit Bangladesh, spare a thought for the many animals which struggle to survive against unthinking human hands and the people who are working hard to preserve them.