The world counts 634 types of primates, and according to a report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), nearly half of them are in danger of extinction because of human activity. (photo, from nationalgeographic.com)
The organisation released a “red list” which says that the main threats for the primates are habitat destruction, led by the burning and clearing of tropical forests for farmland, and the hunting of monkeys and apes for meat.
On Tuesday, the IUCN, which maintains the list of endangered species, said in a statement that some species are “literally being eaten into extinction”.
Meeting at the International Primatological Society Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland, scientists hope that the report will help spur action to save mankind’s nearest relatives, like chimpanzees, orang-utans, gibbons and lemurs.
Habitats for orang-utans, gibbons and leaf monkeys were being fragmented by rapidly increasingly human populations, said the report. And in Asia, with 71 per cent of species at risk, primates were said to be facing the greatest threat.
Based in Switzerland, the IUCN is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental network.
“What is happening in Southeast Asia is terrifying”, said Jean-Christophe Vie, deputy chief of the IUCN species programme.
Bouvier’s red colobus
“To have a group of animals under such a high level of threat is, quite frankly, unlike anything we have recorded among any other group of species to date.”
37 per cent of species in Africa are at risk, and despite a rise in numbers, the mountain gorilla, which can be found in the jungles of Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo, remained on the critically endangered list.
“Gorilla meat, chimpanzee meat and meat of other apes fetches a higher price than beef, chicken or fish” in some African countries, said Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and head of the IUCN primate specialist group.
And he added that by opening up previously inaccessible regions, deforestation was helping the poachers.
The Bouvier’s red colobus, an African monkey which has not been seen in 25 years, and the greater bamboo lemur of Madagascar, of which there are believed to be only about 140 in the wild, are among primate species most at risk, or “critically endangered”.
“If you took all the individuals of the top 25 most endangered species and assigned each of them a seat… they probably wouldn’t fill a football stadium”, said Mittermeier.
Yet, a rare piece of good news came out from the conference : a census by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society and the Republic of Congo discovered two new populations of western lowland gorillas in two northern areas of the country.
In the 1980s, estimates had put the number of western lowland gorillas (photo, from dailymail.co.uk) at less than 100 000, and since then, the population was believed to have fallen by half.
The number is taken up to between 175 000 and 225 000 by the newly discovered animals.
“This is a very significant discovery because of the terrible decline in population of these magnificent creatures to Ebola and bush meat”, said Emma Stokes, one of the research team.
The population figures have been worked out by researchers by identifying and counting the sleeping “nests” gorillas make, because the creatures are too reclusive and shy to count individually.
Mr Mittermeier said that he would like to see more than $100m a year going to help conserve primates in five years time, up from less than $10m now.
“It is not too late for our close cousins the primates, and what we have now is a challenge to turn this around”, he said.