Scientists have found the rarest ape in the world singing on an island in China. The species, called Hainan gibbon, are also considered one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world as people tend to boil their bodies to produce paste.

As the dawn breaks on Futou Ling, a mountain on Hainan Island off China’s south coast, the last remaining gibbons begin to sing. These species are not just considered as the world’s rarest ape but also the world’s rarest primate and potentially rarest mammal.

Scientists have found Hainan gibbons creating an intense musical cacophony, filling the tropical forest, every morning. Males climb to the treetops and start warbling, hooting and shrieking, and females and youngsters start to sing.

About 28 gibbons were found to survive in Bawangling National Nature Reserve in western Hainan. Researchers did not find the animals in any other areas.

The tiny population of Hainan gibbons are at high risk of typhoon, forest fire and outbreak of infectious diseases, which could wipe their entire species. However, researchers are working to prevent the gibbons to be the first primate to become extinct due to human activities.

“The Hainan gibbon is the world’s rarest ape, the world’s rarest primate and, almost certainly, the world’s rarest mammal,” said Samuel Turvey, a senior research fellow at the Zoological Society of London.

Hainan gibbons were considered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as one of the world’s 25 most endangered primates. A report, released on Nov. 24, shows that gibbons have the lowest recorded number of any species.

In a report by the National Geographic, Hainan gibbons have been devastated by poaching and deforestation. People use their bodies to make a gluey paste for Chinese medicine.

Hainan was originally home to thousands of gibbons however its forest was selectively logged for valuable timber and to make way for state-owned rubber plantations since 1960s. These devastating events led researchers to aim to fully understand how gibbons live and their needs to create a plan to save them.

Jessica Bryant, one of the researchers, has spent several seasons tracking gibbons. Bryant and her colleagues have found that gibbons tend to perform a song every day during dawn, and used their voice to track the animals.

She describes Hainan gibbons’ song as “the most beautiful of all.” But the team only have a small period of time to locate the gibbons before they fall silent.

“If we don’t find them in time, we have to wait another one or two hours until they sing again,” Bryant said. “If we can find out how many there are, and where they live, we can focus on protecting and reforesting those areas.”

The scientists are aiming to identify the Hainan gibbons’ declining population to provide plans to protect their number. The scientists are planning to build canopy bridges for gibbons, which are clumsy on the ground, to move through the fragmented forest.

They are also working for an emergency response plan to keep the gibbons from being wiped out by storms or other calamities.

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