The Western hoolock gibbon (Hoolock hoolock) lives in India, Bangladesh and Burma. Classed as endangered on the IUCN[1] Red List because of its dramatic decline due to the destruction of its habitat and being hunted for traditional medicine and the illegal pet trade, the species has seen its numbers plummet more than 90% over the last 30 years, from about 100,000 to less than 5,000.
Extremely fragmented, consisting of small isolated family units, the western hoolock gibbon population no longer meets the conditions required for long-term survival.
Founded in 2006, the French organisation SVAA[2] set up the Huro[3] program to protect the species in north-east India, in the West Garo Hills district at the heart of Meghalaya state. A rescue centre built by the organisation in the middle of the village of Silsotchigre, very close to the Nokrek Biosphere Reserve, takes in gibbons orphaned by hunting and kept captive, with a view to rehabilitating them and assuring their earliest release into a protected area. The centre consists of a quarantine building, a small veterinary clinc and several large enclosures.
At the same time as this rehabiliation work, the SVAA undertakes awareness among local inhabitants, the Garos. This has included the renovation of Silsotchigre school, which it now finances (teachers’ salaries, children’s meals, purchase of supplies). The school has more than 100 pupils, and educational activities relating to environmental and wildlife conservation are integrated into its academic program.
The Huro program currently has about 20 employees. It also regularly welcomes environmental volunteers and ethology or epidemiology students. In 2012/2013, research into population density and habitat quality in different forest reserves resulted in the locating of a release site for gibbons ready to return to the wild: the Angratoli Reserve, chosen because of its low gibbon population, rich food sources, dense trees and controllable borders, and the social and political stability of the region. The decision was seconded by the Forest and Environment Department of the Government of Meghalaya.
The Zoo de La Palmyre has made regular financial contributions to the SVAA since 2009.
[1] International Union for Conservation of Nature.
[2] Sauvegarde de la Vie Animale Arboricole.
[3] Huro means ‘gibbon’ in the Garo language.

Photo credit: © HURO.