October 16, 2012 in Animals & Insects
The 25 most endangered primates in the world have been identified in a new report released by the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity COP11 earlier today. The report, titled “Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2012-2014,” was created 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).
Primates are the closest living relatives of humans, and the majority of them are rapidly moving towards extinction as their populations and environments are reduced, primarily by humans. All of the world’s apes, monkeys, and ‘true’ lemurs are nearing the brink, and a large number of them have already lost so much genetic diversity that it almost seems inevitable that they will become extinct in the not too distant future. In particular, many rare subspecies of apes are nearing the brink, including the lion-eating Bili Apes (chimps).
The report identifies as the primary causes: deforestation and destruction of tropical forest habitat, encroaching development, illegal wildlife trade, and commercial bush meat hunting.
“The list features nine primate species from Asia, six from Madagascar, five from Africa and five from the Neotropics. In terms of individual countries, Madagascar tops the list with six of the 25 most endangered species. Vietnam has five, Indonesia three, Brazil two, and China, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Kenya, Peru, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Venezuela each have one.”
In the report, the authors highlight the case of the Pygmy Tarsier, living in southern and central Sulawesi. The extremely rare primate was only known by 3 specimens in museums until recently. In 2008 3 individuals were caught in the Lore Lindu National Park and another one was seen in the wild. The Pygmy Tarsier will almost certainly be extinct soon, as its few remaining populations are fragmented by human development.
“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 rarest lemur, the Northern Sportive Lemur (Lepilemur septentrionalis), is now down to 19 known individuals in the wild. A red-listing workshop on lemurs, held by the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist group in July this year, revealed that 91% of the 103 species and subspecies were threatened with extinction. This is one of the highest levels of threat ever recorded for a group of vertebrates.”
This new list was created primarily by primatologists who have a lot field experience, with first-hand knowledge of the causes for primate extinction and the threats currently posed to them.
“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 Dr 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.”
“Primates are our closest living relatives and probably the best flagship species for tropical rain forests, since more than 90% of all known primates occur in this endangered biome,” says Dr Russell Mittermeier, Chair of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group and President of Conservation International.
“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.”
Conservation efforts so far have had some limited success, there have been several species removed from the list during the last 14 years. Among those are India’s Lion-Tailed Macaque (Macaca silenus) and Madagascar’s Greater Bamboo Lemur (Prolemur simus). Conservationists attribute their improved outlook for survival to their inclusion in previous reports and the large public response.