Humans and gibbons on top of the world

As part of The Gibbon Experience, visitors get to sleep in some of the world's tallest treehouses - thatched, open-air observatories surrounded by panoramic views of the forest and a symphony of birds - deep in the jungle at the Bokeo Nature Reserve in north-west Laos. They might even spot one of the critically endangered Laotian black-crested gibbons.

The treehouses were kick-started about 20 years ago by French teacher Jean-Francois Reumaux. He and a small team of local carpenters and climbers began building seven vertiginously tall treehouses linked by narrow footpaths and a 15km network of zip-lines - all within earshot of the gibbons' haunting hoots.

As backpackers started flying in, the organisation convinced the Laos National Assembly to set aside the surrounding 645 sq km of rainforest as a federally protected nature reserve.

The project employs 142 canopy guides, cooks and treehouse builders. By offering villagers a more lucrative alternative to poaching, logging and slash-and-burn farming, the organisation has turned some of the gibbons' former predators into their full-time protectors.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2016, with the headline 'Humans and gibbons on top of the world'. Print Edition | Subscribe