In a nearby cage, Cantor, a little golden baby Northern White-Cheeked Gibbon, is clinging adorably to his mother. “These are some of the most endangered gibbons,” Mootnick says as we watch the family watch us. In the wild, they number less than 500. In general, the pressure on gibbons is enormous. In Bangladesh, where gibbons once widely roamed the canopies, there are only 200 gibbons left. “They need our help,” Mootnick says.
The Gibbon Conservation Center survives on a supply of volunteers (including Mootnick, who has never been paid for his years of work) and fund-raising from corporations, individuals, membership drives and a gift shop where Mootnick sells items imported from Indonesia. Twice a year, he hosts a fund-raising picnic for the public. “The last one brought in 400 people,” he says. “A big success.”
Mootnick is hoping to raise enough money for a bigger plot, in Ventura County, where he envisions his ultimate zoo: a system of larger, naturalistic enclosures, without fences, where the public can sit and observe gibbons for hours as if they were on a field study in the wild.
“It’s a new type of idea,” he says. “But it will work.”
The estimated cost? Up to a couple million dollars. A stretch, Mootnick knows, but he points out that it was a stretch to get this far from the 9-year-old banging discarded furniture together in his backyard.
“My next picnic is in October,” he says. It’s a breakfast picnic on October 19. “The more people who come to enjoy the gibbons now will help others enjoy them in the future.”