New species of gibbon discovered in China

Scientists studying hoolock gibbons in the Gaoligong mountains of south west China, along its border with Burma, have concluded they are a new species of primate.

While all previously discovered hoolock gibbons have distinctive white eyebrows and beards, this Chinese specific species differed somewhat.

The word "hoolock" stands for the sub-type of gibbon that lives across much of Asia.

The originally named Gaoligong hoolock gibbon is also called Skywalker, after the Jedi. Along with calling for the animals to be recognized as a new species, the researchers have prompted the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to list the Skywalker gibbon as endangered.

However, the new gibbon species is already critically endangered.

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A third species of gibbon was discovered in China, and to celebrate their love of all things Star Wars related, the scientists who made the discovery chose to name the gibbon after the Jedi Knight, Luke Skywalker. Genetic traits also set it apart from the rest.

The Star Wars film franchise is as popular as ever following its return to the big screen in 2015, and now its legacy will carry on for generations in the form of a newly discovered primate that has no tail.

Mark Hamill has tweeted his excitement at having a new species of gibbon found in Myanmar named after his iconic character Luke Skywalker. "First the Pez dispenser, then the Underoos & U.S. postage stamp. now this!", referring to other things which have featured his character Luke Skywalker.

The primate joins two other species in the genus of hoolock gibbons: the western (Hoolock hoolock) and eastern hoolock (H. leuconedys) gibbons, which are geographically separated by the Chindwin River.

"The discovery of the new species focuses attention on the need for improved conservation of small apes", the researchers said. Professor Fan Pengfei and his colleagues have recently authored a paper on the skywalker hoolock gibbon published on Tuesday, Jan. 10 in the American Journal of Primatology.

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