Gibbons in degraded forest

The conservation value of degraded forests for agile gibbons Hylobates agilis

American Journal of Primatology, 77, 76–85 (2015)

David C. Lee 1,2, Victoria J. Powell 3, & Jeremy A. Lindsell 2,4

1 School of Applied Sciences, University of South Wales, Pontypridd, United Kingdom
2 RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Sandy, United Kingdom
3 Harapan Rainforest, Jambi, Sumatra, Indonesia
4 A Rocha International, Cambridge, United Kingdom


All gibbon species are globally threatened with extinction yet conservation efforts are undermined by a lack of population and ecological data. Agile gibbons (Hylobates agilis) occur in Sumatra, Indonesia and adjacent mainland Southeast Asia. Population densities are known from four sites (three in Sumatra) while little is known about their ability to tolerate habitat degradation. We conducted a survey of agile gibbons in Harapan Rainforest, a lowland forest site in Sumatra. The area has been severely degraded by selective logging and encroachment but is now managed for ecosystem restoration. We used two survey methods: an established point count method for gibbons with some modifications, and straight line transects using auditory detections. Surveys were conducted in the three main forest types prevalent at the site: high, medium, and low canopy cover secondary forests. Mean group density estimates were higher from point counts than from line transects, and tended to be higher in less degraded forests within the study site. We consider points more time efficient and reliable than transects since detectability of gibbons was higher from points per unit effort. We recommend the additional use of Distance sampling methods to account for imperfect detection and provide other recommendations to improve surveys of gibbons. We estimate that the site holds at least 6,070 and as many as 11,360 gibbons. Our results demonstrate that degraded forests can be extremely important for the conservation of agile gibbons and that efforts to protect and restore such sites could contribute significantly to the conservation of the species.

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