Gibbons are highly social, and are the only species of primate that mates for life (humans are a matter of some debate). However, in this exhibit, there was only one gibbon. One lonely gibbon, in an enclosure the size of most two bedroom apartments. While the size of the enclosure is alarming, the fact that this gibbon was alone is even more alarming. We were at the exhibit for about a half hour, and for that time we saw the gibbon sitting alone is a corner of the cage for the most part. Right towards the end of our visit, he or she moved over to a mirror, and began just staring into it, sometimes touching it. I couldn’t stand to watch this, and I asked James if we could leave. Gibbons are more closely related to us than monkeys, are considered apes. Therefore, their intelligence is certainly supreme, and I believe this gibbon was experiencing true loneliness.
I would get my answer a little over a year later. James and I decided to go to Grand Cayman for our anniversary last year. What drew us there were the huge southern sting rays. James’ brother went to Grand Cayman a few years earlier with his wife, and had a picture of them with a giant sting ray. James and I love sting rays; it was always our favorite part of Sea World (while we were still going there).
The part of the island where the sting rays are is a sand bar, and is appropriately named Sting Ray City. There are several companies that offer tours, which also include snorkeling. When we arrived at the sandbar, I was truly awestruck. They were HUGE. And there were tons of them, at least thirty, probably more. They were so beautiful!
We were able to see turtles from egg to adult, and the breeding pool, where the females are able to lay eggs just as they would in the wild. The hatchlings grow up in the safety of the turtle farm, and are then released into the wild. The turtle farm also has other local species, including green iguanas (roaming free), and the greatly endangered Cayman parrot, which is also in a successful breeding program.
Ecotourism has benefits for the local people as well. Rather than all the money going to some outside corporations (as in Anheuser Busch for Sea World and Busch Gardens), the money stays local, and helps the local community. The World Wildlife Fund and National Geographic have both shown that ecotourism is far more profitable for a country than slashing down trees for agriculture (like the palm oil plantations in Indonesia or the Amazon Rainforest). Ecotourism can go on forever, whereas a piece of land is only valuable for a brief period of time for agriculture, and then takes thousands of years to return to its initial state. In addition, I can tell you first hand that visiting an animal on their own turf is way more exciting than seeing them in a zoo.