The Northern white-cheeked gibbon (NWC Gibbon), Nomascus leucogenys, is Critically Endangered (IUCN 2008) and listed on CITES Appendix I. The species has been declared functionally extinct in China and largely extirpated from Vietnam, leaving those animals remaining in northern Lao People's Democratic Republic, as the final hope for conservation.
The NWC Gibbon is particularly vulnerable to extinction because of the species’ biology and habits. They have a slow life history and reproductive rate (late to mature, long inter-birth intervals, few offspring) live in small pair-bonded groups, are diet specific (frugivorous) and strictly arboreal. Movement through the landscape is hindered by avoidance of open spaces, reluctance to descend and difficulty locomoting across ground, and an aversion of water.
NWC Gibbons are classified as “suitable for live import (into Australia) with an import permit” under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999. Conditions of import are for “Eligible non-commercial purposes only” i.e. by zoological parks for conservation purposes.
Captive NWC Gibbon populations are actively managed through the IUCN Survival Program (SSP) and Australasia’s Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA). The ZAA program provides the maximum possible support for the conservation of this species and is one of three gibbon species that have been selected for management within the Australasian region.
The risk assessment determined that the NWC Gibbon is moderately dangerous to humans, has a moderate establishment risk in Tasmania and low consequence if establishment should occur. By taking these factors into account, the assessment concluded that the risk posed by importing NWC Gibbon into Tasmania is moderate.
Following the initial risk assessment, the Department considers permitting the importation of animals assessed as ‘moderate risk’ into the State as long as appropriate mitigation measures, enforced through a wildlife exhibition licence, can be identified and applied.
Mitigation options to reduce the risk associated with importing NWC Gibbon include:
Limiting importation to registered wildlife parks or zoos to ensure the holding facility meets the stringent keeping standards Tasmania applies to all institutions.
Requiring any wildlife park or zoo to submit a NWC Gibbon species management plan (including enclosure details) prior to import.
The wildlife exhibition facility can clearly demonstrate they have proficient keepers for that particular species.