article-imageGibbons at the Gibbon Conservation Center (all photographs by the author)

On August 10, Obscura Society LA took a tour of the Gibbon Conservation Center. Nestled in a remote hillside of Santa Clarita Valley, California, the center houses one of the largest captive populations of the endangered ape species outside of its native range in Asia.

article-imageMany of the younger gibbons display light-colored fur, but their coat can dramatically change in color as they get older.

A family unit of gibbons — the mother was grooming the father while their young offspring tried to get the attention of the father.

Our guide Gabby told us many things about gibbons, including: they are a monogamous species; their children stay with them for seven to eight years before they move on to start their own family unit; and the males and females display different colored coats. The gibbons tend to show a lot of affection towards their offspring. It’s difficult to photograph them because they move with blinding speed, and they are fast enough to snatch and devour unwary birds that enter their enclosures, as gibbons are omnivores and opportunistic feeders.

article-imageAdult male gibbons are easy to identify with their larger size and darker fur coats.

Female gibbons have lighter fur coats, but there is a lot of variability from species to species, including this one that displayed a longer coat compared to other species housed in the center.

There are are at least half a dozen conservation facilities around the world, but the one in Santa Clarita is one of the largest. Many of the gibbons when they reach adulthood are transferred to other facilities to prevent inbreeding. Most zoos do not carry gibbons because they are a very sensitive species and need very specific requirements to properly house them.

article-imageNatural athletes, the gibbons are given swings and toys to play with in their enclosures.

article-imageGabby our tour guide (pictured on the right) with the Obscura Society

Many of the gibbons mirrored the curiosity of the Obscura Society members: they observed us as we observed them. Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of gibbons is their “songs.” Each species of gibbon has a distinct identifying song and it’s further differentiated by gender. For most of the tour, the gibbons were quiet. However, almost by cue, at the end of the tour the gibbons treated us to a cacophony of primal primate music. The combination of their songs was a sound that our group will not easily forget.


The Obscura Society is the real-world exploration arm of Atlas Obscura We seek out secret histories, unusual access, and opportunities for our community to explore strange and overlooked places hidden all around us. Join us on our next adventure!

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