Granny Jane, a gibbon at England's Twycross Zoo, is probably at least a decade older than any of her counterparts in the wild. What's the secret to her longevity? According to her keepers, the secret is simply being chilled out.
Gibbons are also known by the ever so slightly pejorative title "lesser apes", which sets them apart from the great apes: orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, and us. Slotting in between monkeys and these larger apes on the primate evolutionary tree, gibbons have a life expectancy ranging anywhere from about 28 to 47 years, depending on the particular subspecies. In general, wild gibbons rarely live much beyond forty these days, primarily because of rampant disease and infection. Granny Jane is a lar gibbon, also known as the white-handed gibbon, which in theory has a life expectancy of about 44 years.
Without having to worry much about disease — not to mention predators, food shortages, or human encroachment — animals can occasionally live considerably longer in captivity than they can in the wild, and Granny Jane is one such instance of that. Though her exact age is impossible to determine, she has been at the Twycross Zoo since 1966, and she was thought to be about four years old when first brought there. That puts her at just around the half-century mark, making her one of the almost infinitesimally small number of her species to reach that mark.
Speaking to BBC News, Twycross Zoo staff members described their aged gibbon as "chilled-out and wise," "often stubborn," and "surprisingly agile for her age," which I suppose makes her the gibbon equivalent of a slightly crotchety surfer dude. Beyond her chilled-out persona, Twyrcross staffer Natalie Gudger attributed Granny Jane's longevity to the fact that "she's looked after well, has a good diet, she is monitored closely and lives in a safe environment."
While fifty years is a pretty impressive achievement, this story won't become record-breaking until at least 2022. The world's oldest known gibbon, Nippy of New Zealand's Wellington Zoo, died in 2008 at just under the age of sixty, almost half again the life expectancy of his counterparts in the wild. But Granny Jane won't be making a run at the all-time record alone — she shares her patch of Twycross Zoo with Smiler, another long-lived gibbon who is set to turn fifty next year.