Endangered gibbons find safe haven in the Lowcountry

33 Gibbons live in their own sanctuary in Summerville, SC (Joe O'Neill/WCIV)

Nestled away in Summerville, there is an animal sanctuary - the only one of its kind in the country.

It's home to an endangered species you wouldn't expect to find in the Lowcountry.

At a distance, it's hard to tell what is inside the large enclosures. But on closer inspection, we find gibbons, a close relative of the ape. And each have their own unique story.

"Gibby is one of our most wonderful gibbons, he is 52 years of age, one of the oldest in the world and he came down with us five years ago, so he has been here quite awhile," said Shirley McGreal, founder of the International Primate Protection League. "He had been in a lab."

"This is Ting Tong, she is a Golden-cheeked gibbon," said Hardy Brown with animal care at IPPL. "She is around 38 years old. She was sold as an infant on the streets of Vietnam and an American soldier bought her, so she was taken as an infant from her mother."

Thirty-three gibbons call this place home - a peaceful environment where these animals can thrive.

"There is no children coming around, no people to throw rubbish to them...just not open to the public because I think that is stressful for the animals," said McGreal.

It was Shirley's concern for the animals and other primates that led her to create the International Primate Protection League almost 40 years ago.

"I was living in Thailand in the mid-1970s and I saw animals - monkeys, gibbons, primates abused all over the place, so I looked for a place that was working to help protect them from abuse and I found out there wasn't one," said McGreal.

IPPL's basic project is the sanctuary, which can be noisy at times.

"They sing because they are happy. They really do and they also sing another song...this land and my land, this land is your land because they are territorial," said McGreal.

And why wouldn't they be happy? There are 36 acres with plenty of room to swing, good food and wonderful caretakers.

"I'm really glad this place exists to give these guys a last chance where they can live out the rest of their life in peace and quiet and we try to make them as happy as possible by giving them fresh fruits, fresh vegetables," said Hardy.

The sanctuary provides a fresh start for these animals. McGreal emphasizes there is no breeding at the sanctuary and that the Gibbons are wild animals that should never be considered for pets.

The gibbons sanctuary is not open to the public. It has donors around the world that help pay for the food and other things that the animals need.

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