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Gibbon Conservation Center Put Me In The Zoo: Gibbon Conservation Center review

Discussion in 'United States' started by DavidBrown, 23 Mar 2015.

  1. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Moderator Staff Member

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    Put Me In The Zoo: Gibbon Conservation Center Review

    Date of visit: March 22, 2015. I visited with my friends and fellow Zoochatters Chris Barela and Ron (Blackduiker).

    Does this zoo satisfy the reviewer’s Inner-3-Year-Old by featuring his lifelong favorite animals, giraffes and elephants?

    The Gibbon Conservation Center in Santa Clarita, California, has only gibbons. Gibbons are mighty cool, so it was fine that there were no giraffes or elephants.

    If they had called the place the Gibbon, Giraffe, and Elephant Conservation Center and failed to have giraffes and elephants then there would have been trouble.

    The gibbon center is not a traditional zoo. It is a gibbon research and breeding facility that now offers limited access to the public via tours on weekends. It was not built to exhibit animals to the public. The late founder, Alan Mootnick, was interested in gibbons and built this facility where he pioneered gibbon husbandry and did world-class behavioral and taxonomic research on the gibbons. He showed that the Hoolock’s gibbons were 1) two species and 2) a distinct genus of gibbons.

    Does this zoo have any animals that would excite a zoo aficionado?

    On the date of my visit the gibbon center had five gibbon species with a total of 43 individual gibbons. The species at the center were: pileated, Eastern Hoolock’s, Javan, white-cheeked, and siamang. Siamangs are fairly common in the zoo world, but the other species are very uncommon in North American zoos and thus a zoo aficionado would likely very much enjoy seeing some of them.

    Does this zoo have any immersion exhibits that would impress a zoo aficionado?
    Does this zoo have any good basic exhibits?


    The gibbon center is like the behind-the-scenes and off-exhibit breeding area of any major zoo. The cages are very basic. They are full of enrichment items and brachiation space for the gibbons. They are not attractive immersion exhibits, nor were they designed to be.

    Does this zoo have any elements that make it particularly family friendly?
    We went on the guided tour of the relatively small facility that went for about 2 hours. Alma, our guide and one of the keepers and managers of the facility, was an excellent guide. She lucidly described gibbon social structure, anatomy, natural history, diet, husbandry, and conservation, and pointed out these subjects in the gibbons as we watched them.

    We watched gibbons doing dazzling acrobatic leaps and twirls. I learned that every gibbon species has an alarm call for birds of prey. Gibbons sleep on branches and do not build nests. Like humans, gibbons have monogamous pair bonds and form family groups with several of their children. At age six or seven gibbons are slowly pushed out of their families to go out on their own. The climax of the tour was getting a surround-sound concert of gibbon singing as the siamangs, Eastern Hoolock, and white-cheeked gibbons hooted and called. It was genuinely amazing.

    It was also amazing to watch a family group of six white-cheeked gibbons (parents and 4 offspring) bouncing, swinging, twirling, and whirling around. The gibbons are fed eight times a day to mimic natural foraging.

    The tour group had people of all ages from toddlers to senior citizens, and everyone was enthralled with the gibbons and the tour.

    Would a zoo aficionado like this zoo enough to go out of his or her way to visit it?

    I lived in Southern California for many years before I visited the Gibbon Conservation Center. It is out in the boonies of Santa Clarita, but very much worth the effort to get there. I wish that I had visited sooner.

    Any zoo aficionado would likely find watching the gibbons and seeing the unusual collection of species very much worthwhile. Probably just about anyone would, actually. The conditions are very basic. There is only a Porta-Potty for a rest room. The experience is magical though when the apes of the sky go into acrobatic action and start singing.
     
    Last edited: 23 Mar 2015
  2. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

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    Been a while since you posted one of these David, great to read! :cool:

    Couple of questions: Is the GCC an AZA member? Why does it breed gibbons (for zoos, wild release)? Where does it get funding from? Is it a totally independent organisation? How much was the tour?
     
  3. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Moderator Staff Member

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    Thanks for the nice comment.

    Yes, the GCC is an AZA member. They apparently are releasing some of their Javan gibbons back into the wild. They said that they have Javan and Eastern Hoolock's gibbons as assurance populations. They do work with zoos around the world consulting on gibbon husbandry and do exchange animals with other facilities.

    It is an independent non-profit organization. Our tour was $15, which seemed like a bargain for what we got from the tour. I think that memberships are available and there are discount rates for students and seniors.
     
  4. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

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    It sounds like a great place then David, these specialist facilities can be very beneficial for regional collections, although they aren't very common and certainly don't cover all taxa. $15 does sound very cheap for a guided tour, usually these boutique places charge heaps for this sort of thing!
     
  5. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Nice review my friend, and the entrance fee seems puny in comparison to many other establishments that require a pre-booked appointment. I've seen photos of the gibbon cages and while the accommodation is very basic I'm sure that there are plenty of furnishings and enrichment opportunities to keep the apes brachiating all day long.
     
  6. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I'm amazed that more zoo nerds don't visit the establishment. Santa Clarita is less than an hour from most Los Angeles neighbourhoods and that is not much of a drive at all. If I want to visit a zoo I have to load up my wife and 4 kids, drive south into another country, take a 5-hour round-trip and that makes for one heck of a long day at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. Even the local Vancouver Aquarium is a 2-hour round-trip drive and we go there at least 5 times a year! On one past road trip I logged 28,000 km (17,000 miles) in a single summer, driving all over the U.S. touring great zoos and aquariums. :)
     
  7. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

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    Oh come on Snowleopard, that's not entirely true - most of the zoos you visit are definitely without the kids in the back seat! :p
     
  8. taun

    taun Well-Known Member

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    Also like humans, while they may live in these situations they sometimes stray. Some research paper I read suggested that they stray and sometimes produce offspring fathered from a different male.

    Very hard to research in captive populations but certain be interested in more research of wild populations.

    I have looked into this place not sure I have read anything on if they support wild research, can you clarify David?

    You could have had this amazing spectacle at Twycross daily, well until they moved all the gibbons out.
     
  9. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Haha! Actually, on my 2010 summer road trip of 6 weeks I had one child; in 2011 it was a month-long California/Arizona journey with 2 very young kids; and 50 zoos in 50 days in 2012 was again with 2 very young children both under the age of 4. No matter how fun that trip was I'm not sure that I'd ever undertake (or be able to afford) something like that again.

    Now my family is complete with 4 kids and the days of travelling to vast quantities of zoos as a family is over. Usually kids are free wherever you go for the first few years of their lives and then they jump up to ridiculous entrance fee prices after that...plus they rarely stop eating! :) I've only done one of my big road trips alone and that was the summer of 2014 with 65 zoos in 20 days. However, the tentative plan is for a solo summer 2016 trip to several states but primarily Texas. I've got a road trip planned that includes at least 40+ zoos and aquariums in America's second largest state.

    Getting back to the Gibbon Conservation Center, why doesn't the facility send more gibbons to zoos across America? If there are 43 at this small establishment then why are more zoos not adding gibbons from the Conservation Center? The apes make a great zoo display! Also, interesting to note that on the center's website it states that they have bred and reproduced 7 gibbon species. If there are 5 species currently there, then what are the other 2 species with a successful breeding record?
     
  10. Batto

    Batto Well-Known Member

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    100% agreement. Something you only realize when you have kids...At least most zoos stopped basing their prize subdivisions on body size; hereditary tall size shouldn't be punished.
     
  11. Kifaru Bwana

    Kifaru Bwana Well-Known Member

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    I guess this is the seminal issue with AZA species breeding programs as zoos are looking to commit more and more to housing mega vertebrates at the expense of the - IMO unjustly so - the "lesser" and no draw-card species.

    Further, as underlined previously by David GCC is not primarily a conservation breeding facility, but a research facility. The very focus on gibbons assures significant space allocation to housing multiple family/breeding groups of exhibited species and facilitate more intensive management.

    I would be happy if one of the US/Canada poster can comment why critically endangered species like pileated and moloch gibbon are so few and far between in AZA zoos?

    As an example: I remember from past IZY editions and breeding data that the Brownsville Zoo in south-western Texas used to house a fair number of pileated gibbons, but apart from them and Phoenix Zoo not a lot of other collections were involved. Cannot phantom a good explanation for that state of affairs though ... So, if any of you can volunteer one I am open to hearing it!


    Aside from the above comments, my cordial thanks are due to David Brown for a informative and thoroughly entertaining review!!!