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The anti-predator behaviour of wild white-handed gibbons (Hylobates lar)


1 January 2012 General News

Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology | Clarke et al. | January 2012

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Predation on gibbons is rarely observed in the wild. However, the gibbons' moderate body size and relatively small social groups suggest high vulnerability to predation. To assess the role of predation and to study their anti-predator behaviour, we presented visual predator models to nine groups of wild white-handed gibbons at Khao Yai National Park, Thailand. We measured subjects' immediate and delayed responses to four potential predators: tiger, clouded leopard, crested serpent eagle and reticulated python. Subjects reliably approached all four predators. In response to tigers and leopards, they additionally produced predator-specific songs and defecated copiously. In terms of delayed responses, distance between mated adults decreased, but only after exposure to the tiger model. In response to eagles and pythons, gibbons consistently vocalised, but this did not always include predator singing, and we found no long-term effects in overall activity or strata use. However, during 6 of 26 predator encounters, the gibbons produced songs with a structure that was intermediate between a duet song and a predator song more than 20 min after the predator encounter, indicating a long-term effect on their vocal behaviour. This study demonstrates that gibbons discriminate between different potential predators and respond to them with adaptive anti-predator behaviour, which include predator-specific vocal responses. We conclude that gibbons are not immune to predation and that terrestrial predators elicit consistent immediate and delayed anti-predation responses.

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