Alan Richard Mootnick, the founder of the Gibbon Conservation Center in Santa Clarita, died Friday after complications from heart surgery. A self-taught primatologist, Mootnick started the center in 1976 to prevent the extinction of gibbons. He became one of the world’s foremost specialists on the small Southeast Asian arboreal apes, and his center the largest gathering of endangered apes in the western hemisphere. (See previous LA Observed stories, below.) Currently, 44 gibbons live at the center, including several offspring that were born there. Thousands of school children through the years have been introduced to the distinctive apes through visits to the center off Bouquet Canyon Road. From the Signal:
“This is a huge shock to all of us, yet the gibbons will remain well cared for and the tours will continue,” board member Lauren Arenson said.
The center is operated by three employees and a number of volunteers who tend to the animals and conduct tours, Arenson said.
Mootnick dedicated his life to the singular purpose of caring for the small, rare apes after watching the television show “Tarzan” when he was 9 and hearing the gibbons’ singing in the background.
Photo of Mootnick by the Santa Clarita Signal; Ricky and Pepper by Gabi Skollar