Gibbons at Brookfield Zoo
Gibbons are distributed from the extreme east of India, to the far south of China, south through Bangladesh, Burma, and Indochina to the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, west Java, and Borneo. At Brookfield Zoo, you can find them at Tropic World: Asia.
SSP Coordinator:
Jay Petersen, Associate Curator of Primates
Jay Petersen, Gibbon SSP Coordinator
“We still have a lot to learn about and from our threatened and endangered animal species. We try to support the mother in any way we can. In one situation we provided a mother white-cheeked gibbon with a milk crate because she liked to use it as a playpen for her baby,” says Jay.
Brookfield Zoo
Unlike most SSP coordinators, Jay is responsible for managing several species. The Ape Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) provides oversight for the SSPs of all apes. These SSPs include gorilla, chimpanzee, orangutan, bonobo, and gibbon.

The Gibbon SSP provides oversight for all gibbons managed in AZA zoos, and together with the Ape TAG, decides which gibbon species will be managed as SSPs. Three gibbon species have been selected to be managed: white-handed gibbon, white-cheeked gibbon, and siamang.

“Working with about 90 institutions and with about 380 individual animals, it is important to have a lot of help.” Jay works along with four studbook keepers who maintain the breeding and transfer records for a single species. The management group includes: nutritional advisors, a veterinary advisor, and several husbandry advisors.

Also working with the Gibbon SSP are a maternal-infant care and management team. A small population manager also assists with developing Master Plans for the transfer of gibbons between zoos and the pairing of gibbons for breeding. “We are all connected by our mutual interest in gibbons and their wellbeing, as well as by list serves, email, telephone, snail mail, and meetings.”

More on the Gibbons SSP:

  • Like other population managers, Jay and the gibbon studbook keepers rely on the use of several computer programs--including the Single Population Analysis and Records Keeping System (SPARKS) and Population Mangement 2000 (PM2000)--to help with their matchmaking. The software allows them to recommend breeding pairs of gibbons by processing data including location, age, sex, parents, and ancestry.

  • A team of gibbon managers and keepers from across the country has been formed to give attention to the problems mother gibbons have with rearing their young. A University of Chicago graduate student is focusing her doctoral research on this problem and many zoos have become creative when addressing the need to support an infant. One member institution developed a “space bottle” which is used to feed young infants at a distance while they are clinging to their parent.

  • Gibbons are typically monogamous, which means they live as an adult male-female pair with their growing offspring. In recent years, field researchers in Thailand and China have seen gibbon family groups that have included multiple adult males or adult females. This is redefining the belief that gibbons are strictly monogamous.

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