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An honest conversation 

The Gibbon Conservation Center's response to 'Roosters on steroids'

Gibbons are small, endangered arboreal apes. They live in small, tight-knit family units and sing each morning to strengthen their pair and family bonds. The Gibbon Conservation Center (GCC) is a small nonprofit whose mission is to promote the conservation, study, and care of gibbons through public education and habitat preservation. After 40 years at our current location, we began searching for property to improve the lives of the gibbons living at the center. When a potential property surfaced in Santa Margarita, we began to pursue the possibility of moving the center there. It has been disheartening to learn of the efforts by some to oppose our move through very dishonest and downright malicious means.

It is unfortunate that an argument for the personal interests of the writer, Laura Hobbs, has been presented as a disingenuous appeal for the well-being of our animals ("Roosters on steroids," April 15). For someone who claims to have the interests of the animals at heart, this concerned citizen certainly seems to have a great deal of disdain for them. That only leads us to believe that her opposition may be rooted more in a perceived personal inconvenience rather than sincere concern for these small primates. False or misleading statements have been made with the apparent intention of turning public opinion against a small group of very devoted professionals and the gibbons in their care.

To our knowledge, she has never visited our facility. It is evident that no effort has been made to learn about how our work advances our cause nor has she expressed any interest in engaging in honest conversation. The information being presented is so inaccurate that one cannot help but see it as a deliberate attempt to misinform readers and slander our organization. This misplaced effort is a great disservice to the countless volunteers, researchers, and supporters who have worked to bring awareness to these often overlooked and much misunderstood species.

Gibbons are strictly diurnal, that is they are only active during daylight hours. Their first great call begins shortly after sunrise. Each family harmonizes their own unique melodic song that they sing in unison about four to six times a day. This is the only time anyone outside the facility will hear the gibbons. It is this "great call" that has earned them the distinction as one of Earth's loudest land mammals. Though they are loud, especially in their native surroundings, they are not the only loud sounds you would hear in Santa Margarita. It is true that some gibbon calls read at about 100 decibels at the source. Consider, though, that a dog's bark can range anywhere between 85 and 122 decibels. Pigs squeal at 100 decibels. Peacocks can reach 115. An old chainsaw, 120. Gunshots, at 140 decibels or more. All these are sounds you are just as likely to hear during the day, and certainly more likely to hear at night.

The last great call is heard in the early afternoon when their activity winds down. By sunset they have all retreated to their insulated shelters. All work activity at the facility ceases then. Light pollution and the constant noise of urban environments are a source of stress for gibbons just as they are for humans.

That is why a rural setting with dark, quiet nights is ideal for our facility. Like any human or animal, they may alarm if startled. Because we take great care in securing our facility to keep our gibbons and staff safe, this is a rare occurrence. Our Santa Clarita neighborhood is home to a healthy population of native predators like hawks, bobcats, and coyotes. The roving packs of coyotes howl into the night just beyond our gates. On most nights you will hear the barking and howling of neighbors' dogs right along with them. Gibbons, however, play no part in the nighttime soundscape.

These are incredibly charismatic individuals, each with its own charming personality. Family members are very affectionate with each other. They are very playful and can be heard softly giggling while they chase and tickle one another. They softly grumble and squeal while eating their favorite foods. But these are moments you will only hear or experience when you visit our facility.

The morning hours are their most active. Our tours are based around these few short hours of activity. These educational tours give people the opportunity to experience their song and the acrobatics that are another of their distinguishing features. Before COVID-19, we offered tours to the general public at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. During the week we offered only private guided tours to student and family groups ending at around noon. The student groups range from preschool to college age. Post COVID-19, all tours are limited in size and require an online reservation.

Tours make up the shortest part of our work schedule. Most of the staff's time is spent caring for the gibbons. Their diet consists of fresh fruits and vegetables, and supplemental vitamins and minerals. These are prepared and fed six to eight times a day. The rest of the day consists of the cleaning and maintenance of enclosures and the facility grounds. Because of the incredible workload, the center's full-time staff of three relies on the help of volunteers to help with different tasks. Our volunteers are anthropology, biology, wildlife science, and veterinary students. Some are simply animal lovers. The center provides them all an opportunity to gain valuable hours of experience working with these rare primates in a professional animal care setting.

Furthermore, our enclosures are comparable in size to those you would find at many reputable zoos. The materials we provide them to swing on, or brachiate, are thoughtfully chosen and placed to accommodate their style of locomotion. We have expanded our enclosures to the extent our current 5-acre lot allows. One important reason for our relocation is to find a site that would allow each gibbon family a more spacious environment.

For four decades the GCC has been an active and valued member of our small neighborhood within the city of Santa Clarita. We have been fortunate to enjoy the help and support of our neighbors. Working with local small businesses and nonprofits, we have sought to bring meaningful outdoor learning experiences as a service to our community. Over the years, students, educators, and families have valued the GCC as an important educational resource. One where they can come and learn what makes these creatures so special and worthy of preservation while appreciating the natural beauty in their own backyard.

Anyone who is familiar with our work in pursuit of our mission knows that our organization operates with the welfare of our animals as a priority. It is the recognition of this fact that has garnered the trust and respect of our supporters and neighbors for so many years. We would not exist otherwise. We are a very transparent organization, as anyone who visits our facility will find out. We do not operate in the shadows. There is no hidden agenda. Our mission is very clear, and we take every opportunity to share it with the world. We are always happy to answer any good-faith inquiries about our organization. Please reach to us with any questions or concerns. Δ

Gabriella Skollar is the Gibbon Conservation Center's director. Reach out to her at gabi@gibboncenter.org, or send a response for publication to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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