In DepthConservation Biology

Chinese grave reveals vanished gibbon genus

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Science  22 Jun 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6395, pp. 1287
DOI: 10.1126/science.360.6395.1287

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Summary

Swinging from branch to branch with loud and often melodic calls, gibbons are a dramatic presence in forests they inhabit. Classical Chinese poets and painters featured gibbons in countless poems and paintings, but today the apes live only in the far southwestern part of the country. Given their prominence in classical art, however, researchers assumed that gibbons must have once swung through the treetops of central China. Now, physical evidence of a vanished ape has turned up in an unexpected place: a tomb that may have been built for the grandmother of China's first emperor, nearly 2300 years ago. The skull and jaw found in the tomb are so distinctive that scientists conclude that they belonged to a member of a now-extinct gibbon genus. With surviving species also facing extinction, researchers hope the new find could boost motivation to protect them by highlighting how much has already been lost.

  • * With reporting by Bian Huihui in Shanghai, China.