The National Wildlife Rescue Center (NWRC) was established in 2013 in Peninsular Malaysia by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN). The center focuses on rehabilitating wildlife, including gibbons, for eventual release into the wild.
Gibbons come to the rehabilitation center for various reasons. Some are kept illegally as pets, while others are found in plantations that have been moved from their habitat.
Towards the end of their rehabilitation, gibbons undergo various assessments and procedures, such as genetic testing. Part of this is an effort to identify subspecies for a successful and responsible gibbon reintroduction.
By checking the genetics of 12 white-handed gibbons captive at the NWRC, experts made an exciting discovery. A team including Dr Jeffrine J. Rovie-Ryan from Malaysia Sarawak University, and Millawati Gani and colleagues from the National Wildlife Forensic Laboratory at PERHILITAN, identified a genetically distinct population of gibbons new to science.
The researchers discovered unusual mutations in the gibbon’s DNA, which led them to conclude that these animals had evolved in isolation.
“Given the prolonged isolation, it is likely that the southern population has undergone local speciation, but this finding should be considered preliminary and requires further investigation,” explained Dr Rovie-Ryan.
The study gibbons have not yet been released but are pre-release in a semi-wild enclosure at Pulau Ungka (Gibbon Island) where they are closely monitored. Without PERHILITAN’s hard work and genetic testing, this gibbon population may have gone unknown for many years. With more research, more information on the genetics of gibbons is likely to emerge.
The results are published by Pensoft in the open access journal ZooKeys.
Through Zach fitzner, Terre.com Editor-in-chief