Gibbons Are Back in Town! Oakland Zoo Welcomes New White-handed Gibbon “Couple”

Oakland Zoo
June 14, 2019

Rainer (male, age 5, left) and Mei (female, age 8, right) went into their new home at Oakland Zoo yesterday morning. Photo Credit: Steven Gotz

Oakland,CA – June 14, 2019…Oakland Zoo happily welcomes new white-handed gibbon pair, Mei (female, age 8) and Rainer (male, age 5). Mei comes from Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Nebraska where she was separated from her troop due to social conflicts. Rainer comes to Oakland Zoo from Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo in Gainesville, FL and is at the perfect age to leave his troop and start a new one of his own.

At 8AM yesterday morning, zookeepers looked on anxiously as the pair first stepped foot together into their new home, ‘Gibbon Island’ in Oakland Zoo’s Tropical Rainforest.


They are acclimating and seem to be enjoying their new habitat very much after spending a required quarantine period at Oakland Zoo Veterinary Hospital. Veterinary staff had reported that Mei and Rainer got along very well upon their first introduction. They quickly began singing ‘duets’ together several times a day. Gibbons mate for life, and once bonded sing ‘duets’ as a demonstration of their bond. They also sing as a territorial marker, indicating they’ve accepted their new home on Gibbon Island.

Oakland Zoo’s Animal Care Staff have worked through a multi-step process to support the gibbons’ adaptation to their new surroundings. After completing their quarantine period at the Vet Hospital, they were moved into their night house to begin training sessions with zookeepers; to reinforce bond-building with each other, and their zookeepers, and also to aid in ongoing voluntary health-checks.

They were then given access to an adjoining outdoor ‘Gibbon Patio’ or as zookeepers call it, a ‘Gatio’. Once acclimated, they were ready for release yesterday into their new home on ‘Gibbon Island’, where guests can now see the pair daily.

Mei (female, age 8, left) and Rainer (male, age 5, right) exploring 'Gibbon Island' located in the Tropical Rainforest at Oakland Zoo. Photo Credit: Steven Gotz.

We are very excited to have gibbons back at Oakland Zoo. The keepers have been working extra hard getting everything ready so that we can provide the best possible care for them as they get to know each other and get to know their new home.  The keepers and the gibbons have done a fabulous job and all are doing very well”, says Andrea Dougall, Oakland Zoo’s Zoological Manager.

Mei and Rainer were “matched” as a good breeding pair by the gibbon Species Survival Plan (SSP), but the veterinary staff is administering birth control for now. Currently, Mei is contracepted to help the gibbons focus on bonding with one another and adapting to their new environment. SSP was developed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (which Oakland Zoo is accredited by) to help ensure the sustainability of a healthy, genetically diverse, and demographically varied AZA population.

Gibbons are native to tropical forests that are suffering from large-scale deforestation for plantation development of palm-oil. Mei and Rainer will serve as ambassadors at the Zoo for the palm oil crisis.

This popular oil is used in many of our everyday products, making the choice ours. We can all be Taking Action for Wildlife superheroes by choosing wisely,” says Amy Gotliffe, Director of Conservation at Oakland Zoo.

You can Take Action by either avoiding palm oil products or only purchasing from companies that are a part of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil.

The White-handed gibbons are currently in Oakland Zoo’s Tropical Rainforest (Gibbon Island) and can be seen daily during normal Zoo operating hours.



Oakland Zoo, home to more than 850+ native and exotic animals, is managed by the Conservation Society of California (CSC); a non-profit organization leading an informed and inspired community to take action for wildlife locally and globally. With over 25 conservation partners and projects worldwide, the CSC is committed to conservation-based education and saving species and their habitats in the wild. Oakland Zoo is dedicated to the humane treatment of animals and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the national organization that sets the highest standards for animal welfare for zoos and aquariums.


Gibbons are lesser apes from southeast Asia. Their locomotion is primarily brachiation, or arm swinging. During brachiation, the body is alternately supported under each forelimb. Gibbons are one of the few truly monogamous primate species. They live in nuclear families that are very similar to human families of an adult pair and their offspring.  They demonstrate their bond by grooming, sharing food, and singing together. Each species has a unique duet that they sing and the male and female each have their own parts to sing. White-handed, or Lar gibbons have a wide range of color variations, just like humans can have a wide range of hair colors. Mei represents the lighter end of the spectrum and Rainer represents the darker end.

Gibbons are endangered due to deforestation and the pet trade. Many of the same issues that affect Orangutans (such as palm oil) also affect gibbons. The IUCN has listed them as endangered based on the belief that their numbers have decreased by more than 50% in the last 40 years. Gibbons are important to the environment as seed dispersers.