Furry creatures are a constant sight in the Star Wars universe, so it shouldn’t come as much of a shock that a newly discovered species of gibbon has been named after one of the main characters of the original trilogy, Luke Skywalker.
The scientific name of the new ape is Hoolock tianxing, and since the Chinese characters translate to “Heaven’s movement” (and since the researchers are huge Star Wars fans) they nicknamed it the Skywalker Hoolock gibbon. The new species has been discovered living in the forests of the Gaoligong mountains in the southwest of China.
Mark Hamill, Luke Skywalker himself, commented about the honor in a tweet. The research team was led by Professor Fan Pengfei and included experts from the Zoological Society of London. Hoolock gibbons are remarkable creatures found across Myanmar, India, China, and Bangladesh. But the team noticed that these Chinese apes were not like the others.
The study, published in the American Journal of Primatology, describes in detail the small but substantial differences between this and other species. While all Hoolock gibbons have white eyebrows and might have white beards, the Skywalker species have a slightly different appearance. In general, they have thinner eyebrows than H. leuconedys, as well as black or brown beards and genital tufts. Their songs also have an unusual ring compared to other gibbons.
The team studied their mitochondrial DNA and analyzed their teeth and skulls, completing a strong case for the Hoolock tianxing to be fully recongnized as a new species. The team also did another thing, equally important and sadly necessary: They asked for the new animal to be classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
“The team are thrilled to have made this discovery. However, it’s also edged with sadness – as we’re also calling for the IUCN to immediately confer Endangered status on the Skywalker hoolock gibbon, which faces the same grave and imminent risk to its survival as many other small ape species in southern China and Southeast Asia due to habitat loss and hunting,” Dr. Samuel Turvey, from the Zoological Society of London, said in a statement. “Increased awareness of the remarkable ecosystem of the Gaoligong mountains and improved conservation is essential, to ensure we have time to get fully acquainted with this exciting new species before it’s too late.”