Indonesian officials and researchers are working to preserve a small pocket of forest on the heavily populated island of Java as habitat for the Javan gibbon, which they say is threatened by climate change and human encroachment.
Also known as the silky gibbon, the primate is unique to Central and West Java, where it plays a role in regenerating forest vegetation by dispersing seeds.
Local conservation group Swaraowa is tracking a population of about 400 gibbons living in a 73-km reserve in the Petungkryono Forest in Central Java.
Researcher Arif Setiawan said 70 groups are regularly seen in the wild, compared to about 50 in 2012, but warned that their habitat was at risk. “The real threat now is the integrity of the forest due to the increasing number of human activities,” he said.
Conservation International estimates that there are about 4,000 Javan gibbons left. They are listed as endangered on the Red List of Threatened Species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Swaraova and Sarkar conduct outreach programs every month with the local community and install signage to curb hunting and illegal logging in the forest.
In one project, they work with local village chiefs to develop shade-grown coffee into a business, a practice that can be done without causing huge damage to the forest.
Swaraova also runs nature tours, including accommodation for tourists in the forest focused on sustainability, as a means of providing an alternative income source for locals who do not harm the environment. The issue of climate change is more difficult to address.
“It is still raining when it is considered dry season and it will eventually affect the vegetation,” said local forestry officer Untoro Tri Kurniawan.
“Instead of the fruiting season, the leaves grow,” he said. “So the flower that is supposed to be a fruit will drop off and eventually affect the animals in Petungkryono.”