What’s small, furry, Star Wars-related and lives deep in the mysterious forests of a remote location?
Nope, not Wicket the Ewok – it’s actually a new species of gibbon found living in the tropical forests of South West China, which scientists have named after Luke Skywalker. As you do.
In fact, the animal (which has been studied for some time but has only now been confirmed to be different to all other gibbons) has a full name of the Skywalker hoolock gibbon, based both on the scientists’ Star Wars fandom and the fact that the Chinese characters of its scientific name means “Heaven’s Movement” (Hoolock tianxing).
RadioTimes.com’s resident gibbon expert (yes, we have one, and you all laughed at us – but who’s laughing now?!?) also informs us that the family ‘Hylobatidae’ of apes (where gibbons are from) translates as Tree Walker, so it works even more perfectly than first appears.
Speaking about the new discovery, Dr Sam Turvey of the Zoologicial Society of London (who was part of the team studying the apes) told BBC News: “In this area, so many species have declined or gone extinct because of habitat loss, hunting and general human overpopulation.
“So it’s an absolute privilege to see something as special and as rare as a gibbon in a canopy in a Chinese rainforest, and especially when it turns out that the gibbons are actually a new species previously unrecognised by science.”
Dr Turvey’s picture of one of the Gibbons
Hoolock gibbons in general (presumably themselves named after the crossover fandom between Doctor Who and Sherlock fans) have white eyebrows and white beards and are found in Bangladesh, India, China and Myanmar, where they spend the vast majority of their time in the trees.
The Skywalker hoolocks were originally assumed to be part of the same species, but researchers began to notice that the particular group of apes in China’s Yunnan Province had different markings and calls, and genetic testing proved they were a species apart.
Sadly, the newly-minted Skywalker gibbons are already an endangered species, with only a couple of hundred in China and an unknown amount in neighbouring Myanmar, all at risk from habitat loss and hunting.
Still, we have hope for their future – after all, Skywalkers have come back from worse.