Planet Earth

Dominant Male ISO Sweet-Natured Female: Dating Service for Endangered Apes

DiscoblogBy Brett IsraelDec 9, 2009 6:17 PM


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Conservationists in southeast Asia are running a high stakes dating service for apes—gibbons specifically, of which 15 of the 16 species are endangered. Gibbons are being captured and illegally adopted as pets throughout Borneo, so Chanee Brule, who has had a life long fascination with gibbons—he authored a guide to their care at age 13—has taken it upon himself to return rescued gibbons to the wild. He hosts a radio show known as "Radio Gibbon" from his gibbon sanctuary, which intersperses pop hits with public service announcements about ape conservation. When listeners tip him off about abandoned pet gibbons, he rescues these apes and cares for them at his team's sanctuary, with the ultimate goal of reintroducing them into the wild. However, his task is even harder than it sounds. If Brule were to release a lonely gibbon into the wild, the ape would be savagely beaten by a gibbon couple defending their turf. So he sets up dates between different gibbons at the sanctuary, hopeful that they will hit it off and can go start a family in the wild. Once successfully matched, gibbons are famously monogamous. However, finding that match isn't as easy as administering a survey, as Brule told BBC News:

"You can't put one male and one female in one cage and know for sure it will be a good pair," he says. "You need to find the right character, the right gibbon with the right partner." In particular, says Brule, one gibbon tends to dominate within each pair, and the dominant partner can be either the male or female. "If both gibbons don't want to be dominated they will fight until one dies," he says.

Yikes. Brule's strategy is to match domineering gibbons with timid ones, and if it's a match made in heaven, the pair will be released into the wild. A documentary about his work, also called "Radio Gibbon," will air Thursday, December 12th on BBC Two at 2100 GMT. Hopefully, in the future, Brule and his team will be hearing a lot more of this: Related Content: Discoblog: Dating a Dud? Blame It on Biology Discoblog: Obama Administration Is Urged to Save Giant WormDiscoblog: The Newest Plan to Save Endangered Species: Science Tattoos!

Image: flickr / doug88888

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