Lack of conservation will bring mayhem for monkeys

Primates around the world face increasing danger from human activities such as deforestation, and some are at risk of disappearing altogether, according to a group of scientists.

Around one in four of man’s closest living relatives are currently at risk of extinction, according to the report, Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, compiled by experts in deforestation, commercial bushmeat hunting and the illegal animal trade from all over the world.

The report warns that failure to respond and act on its findings will bring about the first primate extinctions in around 100 years.

“More and more of mankind’s closet relatives are being cornered into shrinking areas of tropical rainforest,” president of Conservation International (CI), Russell Mittermeier warned. “This is especially true of Madagascar, one of the planet’s biodiversity hotspots, which has lost most of it original forest cover.”

“More than half its lemurs, not found anywhere else in the world, are threatened with extinction. Without immediate steps to protect these unique creatures and their habitat, we will lose more of our planet’s natural heritage forever.”

The golden-headed langur of Vietnam and China’s Hainan gibbon now only number in the dozens, while the Horton Plains slender loris of Sri Lanka has been sighted just four times since 1937.

Perrier’s sifaka of Madagascar and the Tana River red colobus of Kenya are currently restricted to tiny patches of tropical forest, leaving them vulnerable to predators.

According to the report, the biggest threats to primates are hunters killing them for food and to sell the meat, traders capturing them for live sales, and loggers, farmers or land developers, who systematically destroy their habitats.

“Southeast Asia’s primates are subject to relentless poaching because of the profits to be made from this illegal trade,” said Chantal Elkin, manager of CI’s threatened species programme. “Although some of the region’s threatened primates are taken as pets – notably orangutans and gibbons – they are most often hunted and traded for use in traditional medicines. And most of this trade appears to be international – primarily to China.”

Non-human primates are vital to the health of their surrounding areas, she added, helping to support a wide range of plant and animal life that make up the Earths’ ecosystems through the dispersal of seeds and other interactions.

The report was conducted by the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) Species Survival Commission (SSC) and the International Primatological Society (IPS), in collaboration with CI.

By Jane Kettle

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