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The conservation status of India's sole ape species, the hoolock gibbon, has become a pressing global concern.

  • Gibbons, known as the smallest and fastest of all apes, inhabit tropical and subtropical forests in Southeast Asia.
  • They have high intelligence, distinct personalities, and strong family bonds similar to other apes.
  • They represent one of the 20 gibbon species found worldwide.

Population and Habitat:

  • The current population of hoolock gibbons is estimated to be around 12,000 individuals.
  • They are found in forested areas of Northeast India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Southern China.

Gibbon Species in India:

  • Two distinct hoolock gibbon species are found in India's northeastern region: the eastern hoolock gibbon (Hoolock leuconedys) and the western hoolock gibbon (Hoolock hoolock).
  • A recent study by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad analyzed the genetics of these gibbons.
  • The study revealed that there is actually only one species of gibbon in India, debunking the previous belief of separate eastern and western species based on coat color.
  • The genetic analysis showed that the populations previously thought to be eastern and western hoolock gibbons diverged approximately 1.48 million years ago.
  • The study also estimated that gibbons diverged from a common ancestor around 8.38 million years ago.


  • All 20 gibbon species, including hoolock gibbons, are at a high risk of extinction due to conservation challenges.
  • Gibbon populations and their habitats have significantly declined over the past century, leaving small populations restricted to tropical rainforests.
  • In India, the primary threat to hoolock gibbons is the loss of their natural habitat caused by deforestation for infrastructure projects.

Conservation Status:

  • International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List:
  • Western Hoolock Gibbon: Endangered
  • Eastern Hoolock Gibbon: Vulnerable.
  • Also, both the species are listed on Schedule 1 of the Indian (Wildlife) Protection Act 1972.