Humans’ closest relatives on the brink of extinction

TIMES OF MALTA

Last Thursday, a group of the world’s leading zoologists revealed the 25 most endangered members of the primates – the biological order which contains monkeys, tarsiers, lemurs, gibbons and the great apes, including humans.

It is only humans increasing in numbers – the human population will hit seven billion possibly as soon as next year. But this is occurring at the cost of mankind’s primate cousins. Our closest relatives are in need of urgent conservation measures according to ‘Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, 2008-2010’.

The report, compiled by 85 experts from across the world, reveals that nearly half of all primate species are now in danger of becoming extinct from destruction of tropical forests, illegal wildlife trade and commercial bushmeat hunting.

The list includes five primate species from Madagascar, six from Africa, 11 from Asia, and three from Central and South America, all of which are the most in need of urgent conservation action.

Conservationists want to highlight the plight of species such as the golden headed langur, which is found only on the island of Cat Ba in the Gulf of Tonkin, north-eastern Vietnam, where just 60 to 70 individuals remain. Similarly, there are thought to be less than 100 individual northern sportive lemurs left in Madagascar and around 110 eastern black crested gibbons in northeastern Vietnam.

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

Christoph Schwitzer, head of research at the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation, said: “This report makes for very alarming reading and it underlines the extent of the danger facing many of the world’s primates. We hope it will be effective in drawing attention to the plight of each of the 25 species included. Support and action to help save these species is vital if we are to avoid losing these wonderful animals forever.”

Almost half (48 per cent) of the world’s 634 primate species are classified as threatened with extinction on the Red List of Threatened Species managed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The main threats are habitat destruction, particularly from the burning and clearing of tropical forests (which results in the release of around 16 per cent of the global greenhouse gases causing climate change), the hunting of primates for food, and the illegal wildlife trade.

Russell Mittermeier, Chair of the IUCN Primate Specialist Group and president of Conservation International, said results from the most recent assessment of the world’s mammals indicate that primates are among the most endangered vertebrate groups.

“The purpose of our Top 25 list is to highlight those that are most at risk, to attract the attention of the public, to stimulate national governments to do more, and especially to find the resources to implement desperately-needed conservation measures. We have the resources to address this crisis, but so far, we have failed to act,” Dr Mittermeier added.

Despite the gloomy assessment, conservationists point to the success in helping targeted species recover. In Brazil, the black lion tamarin was down listed to ‘endangered’ from ‘critically endangered’ on the IUCN Red List, as was the golden lion tamarin in 2003, as a result of three decades of conservation efforts involving numerous institutions, many of which were zoos.

Populations of both animals are now well-protected but remain very small, indicating an urgent need for reforestation to provide new habitat for their long-term survival.

‘Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, 2008-2010’ was compiled by the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission and the International Primatological Society, in collaboration with Conservation International.

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Filed under animals, biodiversity, conservation, endangered, environment, environmentalism, extinction, nature, wildlife, zoology

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