High on the hoolock

By Chen Liang (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-03-11 10:08
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High on the hoolock

Li Jiahong snaps a mother hoolock carrying her baby in the
forest of Gaoligong National Nature Reserve, in Yunnan
province. Li Jiahong / For China Daily

A former teacher turns his love of nature into a study of the endangered gibbon in the forests of Yunnan. Chen Liang reports

Before 1995, Li Jiahong had mainly worked indoors as the teacher and headmaster of a primary school at Lujiang township, Baoshan, Yunnan province.

However, his love of nature and the outdoors caused him to change track in 1995. He was 37 when he was transferred to the Baoshan Administration of Gaoligong National Nature Reserve, after paying compensation of 1,000 yuan ($146) to the school.

Education's loss became conservation's gain. For the past 15 years, Li has been working to protect some of the country's most endangered animals, including hoolock gibbons, as a ranger and wildlife photographer.

High on the hoolock
A slow loris, a species under the State's first-level protection, found in Gaoligong reserve.

High on the hoolock

Presbytis phayrei found in Gaoligong reserve. by Li Jiahong / For China Daily

The hoolocks are the second largest of the gibbons and their habitats extend from northeastern India to Myanmar. Small populations also live in eastern Bangladesh and in Southwest China.  

In China, gibbons can only be found in western Yunnan. Shown by a survey done in the 1990s, its population had shrunk to around 200, from more than 500 in the 1950s and 60s. As a result, the hoolocks are now under first level State protection.

It was in 1997 that Li first heard the gibbons' call in the Gaoligong Mountains. He was transfixed. But neither he nor his colleagues managed a glimpse of the creature living high in the treetops.

In fact, he didn't see hoolocks until May 9, 2004. On a rainy morning, he found a couple of gibbons in the forest near the Nankang Protection Station of the reserve. The male was playing and eating while the female was watching from the treetop. Greatly excited, he grabbed his camera and started shooting. But a combination of his amateur skills and expired films ensured he didn't get even one image of the animal.

That December, he joined a photography camp organized by Wild China Film, a non-governmental conservation organization, and the reserve. After completing the training, he got himself a new digital camera and a 300-mm lens.

"Our retired director often said: 'You tell me there are hoolocks in our reserve and I believe you; but (without evidence), how can we make the public believe us?'" Li says.

"This was the main reason I wanted to capture the hoolocks' lives in images."

In spring 2005, he was transferred to the Nankang station and became its director. Armed with his new photography equipment and now closer to the gibbons' feeding grounds, he felt he was ready.

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