The Monkey is Strong in you Young Skywalker

January 26, 2017

Believe it or not, science and Star Wars has some connection aside from futuristic technology. Recently, scientists have discovered a new species of the primate family in eastern Myanmar and the tropical forests of south west China. The species of gibbon has been studied for some time, but now scientists conclude that the gibbon is different from the rest of its family. The primate was named the Skywalker hoolock gibbon. Part of the reason was because in Chinese its scientific name (Hoolock tianxing) meant “Heaven’ s movement” but also because the scientists happened to be Star Wars fans, according to BBC.

According to the Wisconsin Primate Research Center Library, hoolock gibbons are about 32 inches tall, with no tails, and weigh about 13 lb (female) or 15 lb (male). The gibbons spend most of their time living in the treetops, swinging through the forests with their forelimbs, rarely spending any time on the ground. In contrast to other hoolock gibbons however, the skywalker hoolock have different color and variations in the eyebrows, genital tufts, and beards. National Geographic says “if you see gibbons with white or silvery tufts between their legs, those aren’t the gibbons you’re looking for-male skywalkers have brown or black tufts”. The skywalker hoolock is also studied to have an unusual ring to their songs, which they use as bonding devices with other gibbons, mating calls, and a way to assure territorial space from other gibbons. The team of scientists studying these gibbons led by Fan Peng-Fei from Sun Yat-sen University in China, has confirmed that the primates were indeed a different species.

Scientists believe that the skywalker hoolock gibbon is a vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List. There is an estimate of about 200 of these gibbons in China, some inhabiting neighboring Myanmar. However, the real population size is unknown, as the skywalker hoolock is a new species and its formal conservation status must be reevaluated. The primates may even be in serious risk for extinction. Dr. Sam Turvey of the Zoological Society of London explains that “The low number of surviving animals and the threat they face from habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and hunting means we think they should be classified as an endangered species”. Perhaps further research and conservation efforts will one day bring balance to the force with the skywalker hoolock gibbon.

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<Christopher Kim Chatsworth Charter High School 10th Gra>

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