The world's only viable population of critically endangered northern white-cheeked crested gibbons has been found in the remote Vietnamese highlands, conservationists said Monday.
Scientists found the group of 455 animals by tracking their "loud, elaborate and prolonged" calls on the border with Laos, Conservation International (CI) said according to AFP news agency.
They were found in Pu Mat National Park, in northern Vietnam's Nghe An province, at high altitudes and far from human settlements.
Other known groups are too small to be sustainable and the species had been considered to be on the brink of extinction.
"This is an extraordinarily significant find, and underscores the immense importance of protected areas in providing the last refuges for the region’s decimated wildlife," CI president Dr Russell Mittermeier said.
The community represents two thirds of the total number in Vietnam and the "only confirmed viable population" of the variety worldwide.
Gibbons spend their entire lives in trees, mate for life and serenade their partners with song.
But habitat loss, hunting for the pet trade and the use of body parts for their "assumed medicinal value" are threatening their existence worldwide, CI said.
The newly discovered group in Vietnam is threatened by road construction and hunting.
"We don’t think we can stop the roads, so the best solution is targeted gibbon protection in key areas for this population," primatologist Luu Tuong Bach, a consultant to CI, said, as quoted on Mongabay website.
"The major issue will be the hunting of these gibbons that were previously protected by the harsh terrain; so gun control will be vital.
"Without direct protection in Pu Mat National Park, it is likely that Vietnam will lose this species in the near future."