World’s Most Endangered Primates

UNEP COP11 Hyderabad
By Marianne De Nazareth
Freelance Journalist - India

Nine of the primate species on the list originate shamefully from Asia.

Twenty five of mankind’s genetically closest living relatives – the world’s apes, monkeys, lemurs and other primates – are on the brink of extinction and in need of urgent conservation measures. This was revealed in a new report released at the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity COP11.

The report, titled “Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, 2012–2014” has been compiled by the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC) and the International Primatological Society (IPS), in collaboration with Conservation International (CI) and the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation (BCSF).

The UN report, which is researched and compiled, every two years, by the world’s leading primate experts, reveals the species uppermost in going extinct due to the felling of tropical forests, unlawful wildlife trade and the horrid practice of commercial selling of bush meat. Apparently the meat of the primates is called bush meat and is relished as a meat.

“Primates are our closest living relatives and probably the best flagship species for tropical rain forests, since more than 90 percent of all known primates occur in this endangered biome,” said Dr. Russell Mittermeier, Chair of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group and President of Conservation International, “Amazingly, we continue to discover new species every year since 2000. What is more, primates are increasingly becoming a major ecotourism attraction, and primate-watching is growing in interest and serving as a key source of livelihood in many local communities living around protected areas in which these species occur.”

“It’s also important to note that primates are a key element in their tropical forest homes”, adds Dr. Mittermeier. “They often serve as seed dispersers and help to maintain forest diversity. It is increasingly being recognized that forests make a major contribution in terms of ecosystem services for people, providing drinking water, food and medicines.”

Nine of the primate species on the list originate shamefully from Asia, six from Madagascar, five from Africa and five from the Neotropics. Looking at each country separately, Madagascar tops the list with six of the 25 most endangered species. Vietnam has five, while Indonesia has three, Brazil hosts two, and China, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Kenya, Peru, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Venezuela have a specie each.

The UN report highlights the plight of species such as the Pygmy Tarsier (Tarsius pumilus) of southern and central Sulawesi, which was earlier known from three museum specimens until 2008. Then three live specimens were captured inside the Lore Lindu National Park. Human enroachment and armed conflict threatens the few remaining fragmented populations of this species, which could be lost forever.

Reasons Behind Crisis

In Madagascar with the change of political power in the country since 2009, the lemurs are severely threatened by habitat destruction and illegal hunting, which has grown to alarming proportions. The Northern Sportive Lemur (Lepilemur septentrionalis), considered the rarest of the lemurs, has a population depleted to 19 known individuals in the wild. An IUCN red-list workshop on lemurs, revealed that 91% of the 103 species and subspecies were threatened with extinction, which simply means soon they will be extinct if care is not taken to save them.

Mittermeier also explained that the reason for the tremendous loss in Madagascar was because of almost 90 % forest destruction. “There is large scale clearance for soya, sugarcane and slash and burn agriculture which has cause immense land destruction and loss of forest cover.”

The list of the world’s 25 most endangered primates has been drawn up by primatologists working in the field who have first-hand knowledge of the causes of threats to primates.

“Once again, this report shows that the world’s primates are under increasing threat from human activities. Whilst we haven’t lost any primate species yet during this century, some of them are in very dire straits,” says Christoph Schwitzer, Head of Research at the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation (BCSF). “In particular the lemurs are now one of the world’s most endangered groups of mammals, after more than three years of political crisis and a lack of effective enforcement in their home country, Madagascar. A similar crisis is happening in South-East Asia, where trade in wildlife is bringing many primates very close to extinction.”

However, what made interesting news was that in India primates are revered as the God Hanuman and so are culturally fed and looked after. That causes another kind of problem with human animal conflict where the monkey destroys human homes looking for food in India, according to Schwitzer. He advises that we avoid any kind of feeding to prevent the conflict.

Primates Have Better Status

More than half (54%) of the world’s 633 primate species and subspecies with known conservation status are classified as threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

More than half (54%) of the world’s 633 primate species and subspecies with known conservation status are classified as threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The main threats are habitat destruction, particularly from the burning and clearing of tropical forests the hunting of primates for food, and the illegal wildlife trade.

However, with the single-handed efforts of dedicated primate conservationists, and highlighted by enormous public and media interest, the world has not lost a single primate species to extinction in the 20th century. As of now no primate had yet been declared extinct in the 21st century either, although some species are alarmingly low. Interestingly, this is a better record in comparison to most other groups of larger animals that have lost several species.

But all is not lost as several species have been removed from the  red-list,  because of improved status, which includes India's Lion-Tailed Macaque (Macaca silenus) and Madagascar's Greater Bamboo Lemur (Prolemur simus), which appeared initially, but now has stabilized its numbers.

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Marianne De Nazareth is a freelance journalist who contributes to The Hindu and The Deccan Chronicle in Bangalore, in addition to a host of magazines and website publications worldwide. In 2007 she upgraded her journalism skills by doing a two year degree called the Erasmus Mundus Masters in Journalism. She now teaches Journalism to Master's degree students at St. Joseph's College.

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