Primates in Peril

Posted on October 17, 2012


It makes for bleak reading but 25 species of primates are on the brink of extinction because of destructive human activity.

Siau Island Tarsier, Indonesia

The stark warning comes following a report published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature at the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity in the Indian city of Hyderabad.

Six of the severely threatened species live in the island nation of Madagascar, off south-eastern Africa. Five more are from mainland Africa, five from South America and nine are in Asia.

The report  – Primates in Peril  – is updated every two years and is now in its seventh edition. It noted that Madagascar’s lemurs are severely threatened by habitat destruction and illegal hunting, which has accelerated dramatically since the change of power in the country in 2009. The northern sportive lemur (Lepilemur septentrionalis) was the most severely affected, with only 19 known individuals left in the wild in Madagascar.

Dr Christoph Schwitzer of the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation, one of the groups involved in the study said: “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.”

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. Anthropogenic activity such as the clearing of tropical forests, including for logging or to create farmland, as well as the hunting of primates for food and the illegal wildlife trade are the main threats.

There is some good news, believe it or not. Conservation efforts in certain areas have helped some species bounce back. India’s lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus) and Madagascar’s greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus) have been taken off the endangered inventory for 2012 after the targeted species appeared to have recovered. And then there has been the discovery of previously unknown primates.

The rarest of Madagascar’s dwindling lemur species – Greater Bamboo Lemur

Dr Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and the chairman of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s primate specialist group said: “Amazingly, we continue to discover new species every year since 2000. What is more, primates are increasingly becoming a major eco-tourism 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. They often serve as seed dispersers and help to maintain forest diversity. It is increasingly being recognised that forests make a major contribution in terms of ecosystem services for people, providing drinking water, food and medicines.”

Authors of the report hope it will highlight the plight of the most endangered primates.