Gabi, the gibbon ambassador
Last week we were delighted to receive a visit from the director of the Gibbon Conservation Center, located in Santa Clarita, California. Gabriella Skollar managed to dodge the iffy weather we’ve been enduring on the East Coast to give a presentation to our animal care staff and share her experiences. It was a rare bi-coastal meeting of keen gibbon fans!
Gabi has been with the GCC over 10 years. She started as a volunteer in January 2005, took to training other volunteers in animal care, but then became the center’s director in January 2014 after the death of the GCC’s founder in 2011. She now lives on the site of the approximately ten-acre center in a micro-house (which basically means there are never enough bookshelves), next door to five species of gibbons.
The GCC staff cares for some rare little apes indeed: siamangs, northern white-cheeked crested gibbons, eastern hoolocks, pileated gibbons, and Javan gibbons (also known as silvery gibbons). The center also encourages rehabilitation and release projects in gibbon habitat countries like Indonesia and India.
Gabi has led an interesting, well-traveled life. She got a master’s degree in biology in her native Hungary at the University of Szeged, studying gibbon cognition. At the same time, she made audio recordings of changes in male gibbon song during puberty. She continued her studies of gibbon cognition at half a dozen Hungarian zoos after completing her degree. She has also been to India to visit the SVAA/HURO Programme (IPPL helps fund their hoolock rescue work), to Cambodia, and to gibbon conservation centers in Indonesia.
She loved seeing the white-handed gibbons at IPPL’s Headquarters Sanctuary. She worked with this species in Hungary (she is thrilled when her study animals recognize her on her occasional trips back), so hearing their beautiful songs brought back happy memories. She thinks that gibbons are so romantic and emotional, just like humans; her work with them is a passion she feels very connected to.
Our animal care team enjoyed exchanging anecdotes with her. Gabi appreciated the large cooler where we store our produce: glass doors instead of steel mean that we don’t have to guess about where we last stashed the strawberries. Gabi told us that her gibbons will alarm call at snakes, as ours have been known to do, but what really freaks them out is a bullfrog in their enclosure. (We’re grateful that, with several natural and artificial ponds on our property, our own gibbons seem able to deal calmly with the occasional frog visitor.) Our staff thought the songs of the different gibbon species at the GCC, which Gabi played, were very cool, especially the guttural calls of the eastern hoolocks.
It’s always a pleasure to compare and contrast with fellow gibbon lovers. The GCC staff feeds their 42 gibbons lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, just like we do; everybody seems to love sweet potatoes. But the GCC gibbons also enjoy mealworms and oatmeal porridge, Gabi said—something our own animal care chefs may want to consider some day!