Lao PDR is globally significant in terms of gibbon conservation, particularly four species of crested gibbon:
- Western Black Crested Gibbon (Nomascus concolor);
- Northern White-cheeked Gibbon (N. leucogenys);
- Southern White-cheeked Gibbon (N. siki); and
- Yellow-cheeked Gibbon (N. gabriellae).
All species are CITES Appendix 1 species, ranging from Globally Endangered (N. concolor) to Globally Data Deficient (N. leucogenys) and receive full legal protection through the Lao Forestry Wildlife and Aquatic Law.
The majority of the world's N. leucogenys and N. siki populations inhabit Lao PDR, more than in China or Vietnam, which is due mainly to relatively large areas of forest remaining intact and difficult for humans to access.
Bolikhamxay Province contains some of the most biologically rich intact habitats remaining in the country. The eastern boundary of this province lies within the Annamite mountain range, separating Lao PDR from Vietnam. Because of its rugged nature, the habitat, which is primarily moist evergreen forest, is relatively intact and under-explored. Within this province, there currently exist three protected areas considered to be globally significant to gibbon conservation:
- The Nam Kading National Protected Area (NKD NPA), where recent surveys identified the presence of both N. leucogenys and N. siki within its forests.
- The Phou Chom Voy Provincial Protected Area (PCV PPA), where recent surveys revealed alarmingly low gibbon population densities within the core habitat of this area as a result of a number of unchecked threats.
- The Phou Si Thone Endangered Species Conservation Area (PST ESCA), where surveys in 2014 confirmed populations of N leueogenys.
Nam Et-Phou Louey NP has been identified by the Gibbon Conservation Action Plan for Lao PDR 2011-2020 as having a significant population of N. leucogenys.
Above: Northern white-cheeked crested gibbon (Nomascus leucogenys) adult female grooming male. © Terry Whittaker
The major threat to gibbon is hunting. Local consumption of gibbon as a source of protein in rural areas still occurs, and many are sold as pets or for their bones, which have purported medicinal value. Although traditional taboos against hunting gibbon exist, these are currently degrading under new social pressures, and thus opportunistic hunting still occurs.
WCS is working directly with the Lao government to improve the institutional structure and management of key protected areas with gibbon populations and has a long-term goal of supporting these areas into the future until the government has adequate resources and capacity to continue activities on its own.
Awareness-raising in villages around protected areas has led to increased understanding of the global importance and laws regarding gibbons and other threatened and endangered species.
Coordinated and ongoing enforcement of the National Wildlife Law of 2008 has also shown positive results in protecting gibbon populations.