Watch Lar Gibbons in the wild @ Khao Yai

The Lar Gibbon, also known as the White-handed Gibbon is one of the better-known gibbons and is often seen in zoos. But if you want to see a wild endangered species in its natural surroundings it could be less than a few hours’ drive away in Khao Yai National Park.

Lar Gibbons have the greatest north-south range of any of the gibbon species. They are distributed throughout the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia including Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand. Their range historically extended from southwest China to Thailand and Burma south to the whole Malay Peninsula in primary and secondary tropical rain forests. It is also present in the northwest portion of the island of Sumatra. In recent decades, especially, the continental range has been reduced and fragmented. Lar gibbons are likely extinct in China, but if they still exist, they would only be found in southwest Yunnan, their former range.

Habitats in which Lar Gibbons are found include lowland and submontane rainforests, mixed deciduous bamboo forests, seasonal evergreen forests, and peat swamp forests. Home ranges are anywhere from 17 to 40 hectares in size. White-handed gibbons are a high canopy species and are rarely found in the understory.

They wear either a dark coat, which may range from gray to black to brown, or a light coat of light cream colour to light brown. The hairless face is surrounded by a ring of very short white or lightly coloured fur and the hands and feet are both white. Their elongated forelimbs, hands, and feet are adaptated for travel through forest canopies. Lar gibbons do not have tails.

Lar gibbons communicate using songs, which are combinations of solos and/or duets performed by bonded pairs. Calls are loud, long, and complex. Normal duets are loud songs delivered by a mated pair that is made up of an introductory call, a great call, and an interlude sequence. Duets occur between sunrise and noon, and peak at mid-morning. 

They eat mainly ripe fruit from woody climbers and tropical trees. They also eat leafy plants, flowers, and insects. They are very selective feeders when it comes to fruit consumption, fruits are tasted and either accepted or rejected based on ripeness.

Lar Gibbons are listed as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List (Click HERE). Their status is in part due to the flourishing illegal pet trade in Thailand, in which they are hunted, captured, traded, and exploited. The deforestation of habitat is also a threat and is becoming more of a problem. Protected conservation areas like Khoa Yai provide the greatest survival rates for populations of this species.

Khao Yai National Park has the highest population densities for this species anywhere in the world at 6.5 groups/km2, which is nearly three times their second highest population density of 0.7-2.6 groups/km2 in Kuala Lompat and Tanjong Triang on the Malayan Peninsula. This makes Khao Yai the best place worldwide to see this elusive species.

The easiest place to find the Gibbons is on a footpath just behind the main Visitor Centre/Shop in the middle of the Park. The footpath starts and finishes on two footbridges which are about 200 meters apart across the river directly behind the Centre. The footpath is roughly circular so you can start on either bridge but the left hand bridge which is directly behind the left side of the Visitor Centre is the normal starting point. The path is about 3-4 kilometres long and does rise quite steeply at one point and drop quite steeply on the return journey so please make sure you have good footwear, it would be tough walk in flip flops. The walk should easily be within the ability of most averagely fit people. 

The easiest way to find a group of Lar Gibbons is to use your ears. Their calls average about 11 minutes and can be heard up to one kilometre away. They are also detectable from their movement through trees but you are much more likely to hear them first, either through their calls or from hearing rustling branches, before seeing them. They are high canopy species so follow the calls and keep looking at the very tops of the trees, with patience you will find them.

Other species worth looking out for on this walk are Siamese Crocodiles, Water Monitor Lizards and Chinese Water Dragons from the two bridges near the Visitor Centre. Various Egrets and Kingfishers are also quite common in the area. Within the forest, look out for Mountain Imperial Pigeons and the stunning Red-headed Trogon. The forest is also the home of numerous snake species, many of them venomous, so watch your step. especially if you’re looking into the canopy trying to find the Gibbons.

Since you are looking for a wild species in its natural habitat there is no guarantee that you will find some Gibbons, Khao Yai isn't a Zoo, it's a National Park and the species move from area to area, but from experience I normally see Gibbons on this particular path so your chances of seeing a very rare species is very high. Binoculars are recommended but you will get good views without them.

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