The past few weeks have been very busy as we have been trying to collect plant samples from all of the trees that the gibbons use, especially the ones that they feed in. I hope to identify the trees to species. Then our description of the habitat and food sources for gibbons can be used to determine what areas are suitable for gibbons if there are areas where they can be released into the wild. As you may be aware, there are a lot of gibbons in captivity around the world. Unfortunately, the abundance of gibbons in captivity is not representative of the abundance of gibbons in the wild. In Laos there is still a lot of good habitat remaining compared to other countries in Southeast Asia. However, even in the areas of good habitat, many of the forests are empty of wildlife. This is due to pervasive hunting in Laos. In my site there are gibbons because the local people have a taboo against hunting gibbons. They view the gibbons as their ancestors (which is pretty intuitive since humans are also apes!) so they do not hunt them. However, signs of hunting are easily noticeable since we have not seen any langurs, macaques or lorises, species that are supposed to be common here.
Identifying trees is not easy because I am a wildlife biologist not a botanist! Also, usually you are supposed to have the reproductive parts of a plant (flowers) in order to identify it. The flowers of the trees are at the top of the canopy. The trees here are 40-70 meters tall! We don’t really have a way to access the flowers so we have to make do with what we have—the leaves. Sometimes we cannot even get those because in most of the trees the leaves are also only at the canopy.
Here are a few pictures of my field staff climbing trees to get plant samples. We always joke and call them “Tehney” (gibbon) whenever they climb. There are also pictures of the giant ficus- the gibbons’ favorite tree! (They love the juicy figs that it produces at all times of year!) and one picture of the “blood” tree. I have no idea what it’s scientific name is.