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Wildlife Wednesday: Meet Harper, One of the Gibbons at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Scott Terrell

by , DVM, DACVP, Director of Animal & Science Operations, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts

One of the most unique animal habitats at Disney’s Animal Kingdom belongs to the gibbons in Asia. I could spend all day in this area watching the two distinctive species of gibbons – siamangs and white-cheeked gibbons – run, jump and climb around their very distinctive habitats that resemble ancient temples.

Gibbons, which are critically endangered, can rotate their arms in a complete circle, making it easy for them to swing swiftly. They also have opposable thumbs, making it easy for them to maneuver, carry and grab items with their hands. Their opposable big toes enable them to grasp and hold objects with their feet.

Lately, we’ve delighted in watching the gibbon family as Harper, who is just over 2 years old, grows up and becomes more independent. Our Science Operations Team is observing the gibbon family to learn more about how the group’s social interactions change as Harper ages. Many of the animals you can see at Disney’s Animal Kingdom have complex social hierarchies and relationships, such as mandrills, meerkats and elephants. We can learn a great deal about them and make the best decisions about their care by paying close attention to their behaviors.

Wildlife Wednesday: Meet Harper, One of the Gibbons at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

White-cheeked gibbons go through a series of color changes as they grow from infants to adulthood. They are born a tan-blonde color to better blend in with their mothers, and then at about a year old, the young gibbons turn black. Males will stay black for the rest of their lives, but females go through another color change once they reach maturity at about 7 years old, when they turn back to tan.

Wildlife Wednesday: Meet Harper, One of the Gibbons at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Wildlife Wednesday: Meet Harper, One of the Gibbons at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Our baby Harper has already completed her first color change, and her behavior has changed, too, which lets us know that she’s growing up! Earlier, she spent most of her time with her mother, Melaka.

Now, she’s not afraid to venture away from mom, and she often spends a lot of time wrestling with and chasing after her older brothers, Max and Murray.

Wildlife Wednesday: Meet Harper, One of the Gibbons at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

You can learn more about these amazing apes and their conservation by visiting disneyanimals.com. #WildAboutScience #GrowingUpGibbon