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White-handed gibbon baby Eros with his mother in PECO Primate Reserve at Philadelphia Zoo.

Philadelphia Zoo Announces Birth of Endangered White-Handed Gibbon, Ape Species Native to Southeast Asia

Philadelphia Zoo is excited to announce the birth of a white-handed gibbon, an endangered ape species native to Southeast Asia.

The Zoo’s animal team says the baby boy, born just before keeper staff arrived on Thursday, March, 14, is healthy and continues to nurse from mom who’s demonstrating all the right behaviors caring for him. The baby, born to 35-year-old mom Phoenice (pronounced fuh-NIECE) and 34-year-old dad Mercury, has two older siblings at the Zoo: 5-year-old brother Polaris and 2-year old sister Ophelia. Our keeper team has named the baby boy Eros after the asteroid that orbits Mars. The baby’s birth is a part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) breeding program to ensure the survival of this species and maintain a genetically diverse population. White-handed gibbons are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) with threats including hunting, the pet trade, and habitat loss.

“Philadelphia Zoo is proud to have such a strong history with breeding this endangered ape,” says the Andrew J. Baker Curator of Primates and Small Mammals Michael Stern. “Mom and dad have proven to be great parents over the years, and we can’t wait until the baby is a little older and our guests can watch him playing with big brother and sister.”

White-handed gibbons are found in Southeast Asia in countries including China and Thailand and are considered to be one of the most acrobatic animals on the planet. They move through the trees by brachiation: swinging hand over hand with the body suspended below.  When on the ground, they walk and run upright on their hind legs, with arms held high for balance. Males and females can be either blonde or dark colored, which is determined by a hair color gene, not by sex.

White-handed gibbon babies are born after a 7-month gestation and cling to mom’s abdomen for the first few months of life. They remain dependent on mom until weaned around two years old. Gibbons are monogamous and often remain together for life.

At the Zoo, mom Phoenice and dad Mercury have had a total of 6 offspring included the newest baby. Their first child Leo is now at Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio; sons Aires and Orion are at Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Washington; son Polaris and daughter Ophelia are at Philadelphia Zoo with mom, dad and new sibling. They can be seen at PECO Primate Reserve.

White-handed gibbon facts:

  • They can be found in Southeast Asia, including southern China, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and as far south as Sumatra.
  • Gibbons are the best aerialists among the primates. They exceed all other apes and most other primates in agility.
  • Gibbons live in small family groups, usually containing one breeding pair, plus one to a few offspring. Mated pairs tend to stay together in the same territory for their entire life-span, and they continue to have new young as mature offspring leave the group.
  • They have proportionally longer arms than any other ape. Arm span exceeds the total length of its body and legs.
  • In the wild, ripe fruit makes up most of the diet, but leaves and insects are not excluded from their diet. At the Zoo, they eat formulated primate chow and a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens.
  • Like gorillas and orangutans and other apes, they lack tails, develop and breed more slowly than monkeys and are considered to be very smart.