Newly discovered species of gibbon named after Star Wars icon

12 Jan 2017

A more common hoolock gibbon species in a tree. Image: PhotocechCZ/Shutterstock

Star Wars fandom rages on, even in the biological community, as a newly discovered species of gibbon has been named after the franchise’s central character, Luke Skywalker.

The Star Wars film franchise is as popular as ever, following its return to the big screen in 2015, and now its legacy will carry on for generations in the form of a newly discovered primate that has no tail.

The team of scientists from Sun Yat-sen University in China that discovered the new species has called it the Skywalker hoolock gibbon (hoolock tianxing) after Luke Skywalker, portrayed by the actor Mark Hamill.

According to the BBC, the team presented its findings in the American Journal of Primatology, explaining that the Chinese characters found in its scientific name translate as “heaven’s movement”.

As fans of the Star Wars series, the scientists naturally decided to dedicate its common name to the famous Jedi.

Found in Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar, typical hoolock gibbons are typically elusive to humans, spending the majority of their time in the treetops.

But unlike previously discovered hoolock gibbons, which have distinctive white eyebrows and beards, this Chinese-specific species differed somewhat.

Already endangered

Further analysis also showed that the familiar hoolock gibbon songs were not present in the Skywalker species, with the latter having its own unusual tweak in its calls.

The research team led by Fan Peng-Fei has estimated that the Skywalker species number as few as 200 in China, but a population could also exist in neighbouring Myanmar.

Also involved in the research was Dr Sam Turvey from the Zoological Society of London, who warned that while the gibbon species was only discovered recently, it is already endangered.

“The low number of surviving animals and the threat they face from habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and hunting means we think they should be classified as an endangered species,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mark Hamill greeted the news, describing his joy on Twitter.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic