Discovering a new SPECIES of ape or monkey is always a big deal. And at the beginning of the year, scientists announced they had discovered a new species of gibbon. But what made headlines is that the discoverers named these rare gibbons “Skywalker.”
The announcement came in the American Journal of Primatology in early January. These gibbons live in Southwestern China and the adjacent country of Myanmar. Gibbons have no tail and are considered apes, not monkeys. And because of their smaller size compared to great apes (gorillas, chimps, bonobos, orangutans and humans), the fact that they don’t make nests and the males and females are so similar, gibbons are known as lesser apes.
With long arms and strong hands able to grab branches as they swing from one tree to the next, gibbons are amazingly agile. They are diurnal (active during daylight) and the genus Hoolock gibbons are around 32 inches tall and weigh between 13–15 pounds.
This new species is now one of four species of hoolock gibbons. Gibbons can travel over 50 feet through the air as they brachiate (move by swinging), reaching speeds of 34 mph! The scientific name of these gibbons is Hoolock tianxing.
The Chinese characters for the name translate to “Heaven’s movement.” And since the scientists are also said to be Star Wars fans, they decided to name this new furry-faced ape “skywalker hoolock gibbon.”
Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars films, was flattered to be associated with such a cool creature. “So proud of this! First the Pez dispenser, then the Underoos and U.S. postage stamp... Now this!” the actor tweeted.
Relatives of skywalker gibbons are already on the IUCN’s Red List as vulnerable. With a population of only about 200 skywalkers, the scientists hope that further studies will list these gibbons as endangered.