A newly discovered gibbon species, potentially on the brink of extinction, desperately needs your help!
In 2017 a new species of gibbon, the Skywalker Hoolock (Hoolock tianxing), was described by science . It was discovered stradling the border between China and Myanmar (Burma) in an isolated forest fragment known as Gaoligongshan. Scientists estimated that there are approximately 200 individuals in China, but exact numbers in Myanmar are unknown. With increasing threats from hunting and habitat loss, it is imperative we do everything that we can to protect this species.
Photo credit: Fan Peng-Fei
That's moving, but what is a gibbon?!
Gibbons are the smallest of the apes. They are known for their ability to brachiate, enabling them to move gracefully through the trees, their small family groups, and their species-specific territorial songs.
Who am I? And why am I crowdfunding?
My name is Carolyn, somewhat of a jungle Jedi. I am a primatologist and a self-funded doctoral student at University College London . I have 10 years worth of experience working in this field for a number of reputable organisations, such as Jane Goodall Institute, Zoological Society of London, and Borneo Nature Foundation. I hold a BSc (Hons) in Life Science and an MRes in Primatology (Distinction). Even though I have extensive education and fieldwork experience, there is not much money in conservation. As a result, I have really struggled to find funding to support this imperative research to protect the Skywalker gibbon. I have therefore launched this crowdfunding campaign to raise much needed awareness and funds for this vital project.
I thank you profusely for any contribution you make! Without which, this research will not be possible.
Photo credit: Bernat Ripoll Capilla
Where will the funds go?
My ultimate research goal is to gather more robust data on the Skywalker gibbon so we can establish a conservation management action plan to protect it. In doing so, this species can be accurately assessed for the http://www.iucnredlist.org/ and it will increase our knowledge about drivers of gibbon decline.
Like with any good, reliable investigation, it is important to carry out a pilot study to collect initial data, determine the best methods, do a site recce, and establish a future research action plan. I am seeking funds to enable me to carry out such a pilot study in early 2018.
Furthermore, with data collected from my pilot study, I will then be able to attend and hopefully present updated knowledge of the Skywalker Hoolock at a gibbon conservation symposium at the International Primate Society conference in August 2018. This symposium is an opportunity to discuss results with other gibbonologists and encourage more research attention (and hopefully funds!). Gibbons are the 'forgotten apes' in the shadow of their great ape cousins, and these symposiums are not held annually. The last one was held in 2014, highlighting the importance of being able to attend in 2018.
The sciency bit! What research activites will be carried out during the pilot study?
We can think of this as Phase 1 of my research (please feel free to read about Phase 2-3 at the very end if you're that interested!). For my pilot study, I plan to do a site recce in Myanmar and China, and start collecting some of the following data to add to our knowledge of the Skywalker gibbon and test the feasbility of certain methods:
1. Carrying out population surveys in Myanmar using the standard method so an overall population size can be ascertained. In doing so we can then perform a population viability analysis which determines the probability that a population will go extinct within a given number of years;
2. Collect DNA samples (fecal) to investigate patterns of dispersal and inbreeding within the population;
3. Carry out one-on-one and focus group interviews with local communities to understand biodiversity 'values', needs and patterns of resource use;
4. Follow individual family groups on the ground to record important behaviour data (i.e. travel, feeding, social interactions and forest canopy use) to understand habitat use patterns.
Why is this research so important?
1. There are 20 gibbon species in total, of which, 19 are considered 'endangered' or 'critically endangered'. We desperately need more researchers studying the 'forgotten apes'.
2. With only 200 individuals in China and numbers in Myanmar unknown (but likely to be low based on available habitat) and pressures from hunting and habitat loss, we are in a race to learn as much as we can about the Skywalker gibbon to protect it.
3. Transboundary projects are really important in reinforcing relationships between two or more countries. This research will encourage further research communication, collaboration and cooperation between Myanmar and China.
How much do I need to raise? And what is the exact budget breakdown of research costs?
100% of all funds raised will go towards research costs. I teach part-time at the university to support my own cost of living.
The bare minimum I require for Phase 1 is £10,500. The budget breakdown is as follows:
1. Pilot Study (1-2 Months)
Visa for Myanmar: £40
International travel: £600
In-country travel, insurance and consumables: £600
Field Assistants x 2: £455
2. IPS Gibbon Symposium
International travel: £600
Conference fee (student member): £215
Accommodation for one-week: £400
3. Research Tuition Fees
2017-2018: £2530 (part-time)
2018-2019: £5060 (full-time)
Who is part of my gibbon dream team?
1. Professor Helen Chatterjee , BSc (Hons) MSc PhD SFHEA MBE
Helen is the Head of Research and Teaching in UCL Museums and Public Engagement, and a Senior Lecturer in Biology. She has worked on gibbons for over 20 years and sits on the Executive Committee of International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Section on Small Apes. She specialises in primate biogeography, phylogenetics and morphological adaptations.
2. Dr. Samuel Turvey , BA (Hons) PhD
Sam is a Senior Research Fellow at the Zoological Society of London. His background is in conservation biology with extensive experience working with threatened faunas in eastern and southeastern Asia. Along with Professor Fan Peng-Fei, he was involved in the discovery of the Skywalker Hoolock gibbon .
3. Professor Fan Peng-Fei , PhD
Fan is a professor and lecturer in Behavioural Ecology and Conservation Biology at Sun Yat-sen University in China. With more than 14 years studying gibbons, he is one of the leading experts in this field. Fan’s research interests include the behavioural adaptation of primates to harsh or degraded habitats, and group size and evolution of social system in gibbons. He has published more than 75 papers on these subjects.
After this intial pilot phase, what are my research plans?
If by a generous miracle I am lucky to exceed my £10,500 target, additional funds will go towards Phases 2 and 3.
Phase 2 of my research will involve going back out to Myanmar and China (in 2018/2019) to refine my chosen methods and continue data collection so I have a reliable, long-term dataset to carry out analyses. I plan to spend at least one year in the field (in 3-6 month stints). During this period of time, I hope to build strong relationships and rapport with the local communities to encourage long-term sustainable practices for the co-existence of both human and gibbon.
Phase 3 of my research will involve analysing all my data and writing up a beast of a thesis! Analyses will involve:
- Carrying out population viability analyses using Vortex software;
- Using R statistical software to analyse behavioural data;
- Using various methods in ArcGIS to analyse home range requirements (Minimum Convex Polygons, Kernel Density Estimates, Local Convex Hull, and Brownian Bridge Movement Model).
How can you follow my research?
I will be recording a field Vlog on my website, www.thompsoncarolyn.com. I hope to document all the highs, lows and adventures of gibbon field research.
You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram.
Thank you so much for providing a new hope for this species!
Check out the rewards to get your hands on a poster or postcard with this incredible, limited edition design*.
****Rewards are a guide only - you can choose any amount once you've clicked "Donate Now". All backers will be invited to a seminar/webinar and be added to my newsletter mailing list. Thank you so much for your generous donation.****
* Designed by the talented Dave McCall: www.davemccall.co.uk
** Ian Wood: www.agoodplace.co.uk
*** Travel not included
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