Thursday, January 10, 2013

My White-Handed Gibbon Presentation

White-handed gibbon in a rare spot: on the ground
Tomorrow I have to give a short (three minute) presentation on an animal of my choice to an imaginary class level of my choice as part of my Zoo Volunteer training. I have chosen the white-handed gibbon as my animal and a Grade 6 Biodiversity Workshop Tour as my audience. I am spending much of the day practicing this presentation and will likely not have much else to write about in any event, so I thought it would be fun to just print my entire talk out here for your amusement. I am having trouble keeping this talk below four minutes—and that's without allowing for any interaction with the audience—so I clearly have some work to do. It's entirely possible that my final "script" will be shorter than this one, although I have no idea, at this point, what part(s) I would want to cut out. Anything you see in square brackets ("[ ]") are sentences or thoughts I feel I could eliminate if pressed for time. Questions I wish to pose to the group are in italics and will probably be followed by a short pause for answers. The absolutely vital talking points are in bold. And now, without further ado....pretend you're eleven years old again and standing in front of the gibbon enclosure in the Indomalayan pavilion....

Lar gibbon in the trees
Ok, can everybody see? All right. So….did you ever wish you could fly? Yeah, me too! But how about without needing wings or feathers? Well, here is an animal that is very much like us genetically which comes as close to flying as you can get without having wings!

These are white-handed gibbons, also called lar gibbons. These cute primates can be found in Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Northern Sumatra and Malaysia, primarily in tropical rainforests.

Close-up of a gibbon's hand
These gibbons move so quickly and effortlessly through the canopy of the forests that it can seem for long moments at a time as if they are flying! They have very long arms, short legs, very light bodies, padded and elongated hands and curved fingers to better grip the branches as they “fly” from tree to tree. They move predominantly by what is called brachiating locomotion (they use their arms) and can leap a distance of 9-10 metres in a single jump. They are very rarely found on the ground in the wild because that’s where their only predators are; here in the Zoo, they have no worries about predators and you will see them walking far more often. When they do move about on the ground they walk on their back legs exclusively [bipedal] which is very rare among apes.

Lar gibbon mated pair
White-handed gibbons spend most of their adult life in a single mated pair with their young offspring. Each pair has a distinct call which is unique to them; how does this help their survival? This helps to ward off other gibbons and marks out their “personal space” and feeding areas, keeping food and shelter abundant and helping to avoid physical altercations with other gibbons over sustenance.

Gibbon enjoying some fresh fruit

Gibbons are mainly frugivores; [sometimes they will eat insects and eggs and very rarely young birds, but] most of their diet is fresh fruit. How does this help the survival of their ecosystem? They are excellent “seed dispersers” because seeds get stuck to their fur as they fly about the forest, or excreted in their scat. Gibbons especially love fig trees, relying on them for food and shelter as they produce fruit year-round.

"Darwin" at the sanctuary
You learned about “H.I.P.P.O” (Habitat Destruction; Invasive Species; Pollution; People; Overcollection) in the classroom earlier. What two letters do you think are the most threatening to the gibbon? “H” (habitat) is the single most threatening, because deforestation—especially of the rainforest—is a huge problem for all creatures who live there. “P” (people) is the second-most threatening. Sometimes the gibbon is hunted for meat, but mostly the problem is that people think primates make good pets and they really do not. [Remember Darwin, the “IKEA Monkey” that was in the news last December? He’s now at a sanctuary northeast of Toronto because you’re not allowed to keep a primate as a pet in Toronto. He was bred in Montreal, but the chain had to begin at some point with a “live capture” in the wild and the laws against this are also woefully ineffective.] [Speaking of Darwin], is the gibbon a monkey or an ape? It’s an ape[—specifically an “Old World” ape from the Eastern Hemisphere—]because it has no tail. They are not as closely related to us as orangutans, gorillas or other hominids, but they are still genetically very similar to humans.

Because the gibbons live predominantly in the canopy of the rainforests and disperse seeds, they help ensure the survival of their ecosystem and the many other species who live there in the event that, for example, something catastrophic happens to the bird population.

Sumatran tiger

The next animal we will visit is what is known as an “apex predator”—meaning top of the food chain—and it would probably be very happy indeed to find gibbons walking on the ground in the wild a lot more often than they do! [Let’s go see the Sumatran tiger.]

So that's it. I think it should go well. One thing that scares me a bit: I've done a lot of research for this one three-minute talk. When I lead a tour, I will have two hours to fill. There is still a lot of learning to come!


  1. Engaging and informative 'talk' S-Dot. No wonder you aced it!

    1. Thanks, G-Mac! By the time I got to present it I had enough of it committed to memory that I was able to "riff" for the most part. The consensus highlight: when "Lenny" got out of the trees and started walking around on his back legs with his long arms raised in the air, forcing me to, of course, mimic him. :)


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