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Gibbons from Howletts Wild Animal Park, Canterbury, returned to wild Java

Cheeky gibbons have finally been released into the wild after travelling more than 7,000 miles to the Indonesian jungle.

Six gibbons made the journey back to their native homeland in Java, Indonesia, after they spent their entire lives at a wild animal park in Canterbury.

The apes were flown over 7,300 miles to a primate rehabilitation center near Bandung, Indonesia, where they were released into enclosures.

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The gibbons have been released in the wild. Picture: The Aspinall Foundation
The gibbons have been released in the wild. Picture: The Aspinall Foundation

Keepers will monitor their progress for several months until they are ready to be released into the wild.

Gibbons face a major threat of deforestation in Java after their habitat was cut down for logging, agriculture and development and juveniles are often caught to be sold illegally as pets.

The four males and one female, with her two-year-old daughter, lived at Howletts Wild Animal Park before the move.

Chairman of The Aspinall Foundation, which masterminded the move, Damian Aspinall, said: "This is incredibly exciting for us.

"We are the only conservation charity doing this vital work to save endangered Javan gibbons from extinction.

"Whilst our breeding sanctuaries, Howletts and Port Lympne Wild Animal Parks in the UK, are renowned for successfully raising these gibbons in captivity, we have been
unable to introduce them to the wild until now.

"The results of our pioneering research mean we can now give these incredible animals a safe life in the wild, where they belong."

Kulon, 24, one of the Park's most successful breeding females, is accompanying two-year-old Putri, the youngest of the released gibbons.

They are joined by Payung, eight, Patuha, five, Dwi, seven, and Hirpup, eight, and it is hoped they will give other endangered primates a chance of survival.

Head of veterinary services at The Aspinall Foundation, Jane Hopper, explained: "We needed to determine whether wild populations of gibbons in Java carried this strain of the Hepatitis B virus before we released any gibbons to the forests, whether these be from the wild animal parks in Kent or rescued from the illegal primate trade in Indonesia by the in-situ team.

"Using faecal samples from wild Javan gibbons, carefully collected by our team and working with specialists at Public Health England, we were able to identify the wild gibbons did indeed carry the same strain of the virus our gibbons had.

The animals have been living in the Canterbury zoo until now. Picture: The Aspinall Foundation
The animals have been living in the Canterbury zoo until now. Picture: The Aspinall Foundation

"In fact, Javan gibbons seem to carry their own unique strain of the Hepatitis B virus, different from strains seen in other species including humans.

"The Javan gibbon strain of Hepatitis B does not seem to cause illness in the gibbons and has not been shown to cause illness in other species."

Mr Aspinall added: "Our work in Java is crucial to the survival of the Javan gibbon.

"This incredible species faces extinction in the next 20 years, unless proper conservation action is taken.

"It is our guiding philosophy that we must, wherever possible, return animals to protected areas of their natural habitat and work with local communities and governments to ensure we safeguard wilderness areas around the world for these reintroduction projects to continue."

For more information on the conservation work, visit the Aspinall Foundation website here.

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