Rope bridge restores forest passage for critically endangered apes

When a landslide on China’s Hainan Island damaged an arboreal highway that allowed the critically endangered Hainan gibbons to cross from one side of the forest to the other, conservationists were quick to find a solution and provide the apes with a safe route across the gully: an artificial canopy bridge.

Though slow to adopt it, the gibbons increasingly traveled the canopy made of two ropes that was installed across the 15-meter gap. The findings, recently published in the science journal Nature, suggest that such tethers could also help connect patches of forests that have been fragmented by human activities and aid conservation efforts aimed at restoring natural forest corridors.

“Fragmentation is becoming an increasing problem,” says Tremaine Gregory, a conservation biologist at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, who wasn’t involved in the study. “It’s probably going to be, along with climate change, one of the biggest challenges for biodiversity in decades.”

The landslide damaged a preferred route through the trees that the apes used to traverse the rainforest. Hainan gibbons are almost strictly arboreal, and forest fragmentation can divide the already critically endangered primates into smaller breeding populations, says Bosco Chan, a conservation biologist at the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden in Hong Kong. this can lead to inbreeding or local groups dying out.

There are about 30 Hainan gibbons remaining, all living on Hainan Island, so every precaution is necessary to ensure their safety. For now, the bridge provides a temporary solution while transplants of native trees grow and other trees regenerate.

We recently published a similar story about a network of suspended bridges on the island of Java, which are helping expand the habit of the endangered slow loris. To read the story on the little known primate, have a look right here.

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