Threats to Primates Are Escalating

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, October 8, 2002 (ENS) - One in every three of the world's apes, monkeys, lemurs and other primates are now threatened with extinction, warns a new report by international conservation groups. The report notes that primate species and subspecies classified as endangered or critically endangered has jumped by almost 63 percent - from 120 to 195 - since the last version of the report was issued in January 2000.


The roloway guenon is one of the three most highly endangered monkeys of the Upper Guinea forest block, and is targeted by the bushmeat trade. (Photo by Lindsay Magnuson/Humboldt State University)
"The World's Top 25 Most Endangered Primates-2002," complied by Conservation International (CI) and the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN-The World Conservation Union, was finalized during a recent gathering of the International Primatological Society, at its 19th Congress in Beijing, China.

Asia now accounts for almost 45 percent of the world's most endangered primates, the report shows, with 11 listed in the top 25, including six that are new additions. Africa has eight primates on the list, the Neotropics hosts three endangered primates, and Madagascar is home to the final three primates represented on the list.

"The latest information made available at the International Primatological Society Congress in Beijing highlighted the fact that Asia has now become the world leader in endangered primates," said Conservation International president Russ Mittermeier.


The buff-headed capuchin is the most endangered of the capuchin monkeys, restricted to southern Bahia, Brazil and threatened with extinction due to habitat destruction, hunting and live capture for pets. (Photo by Russell A. Mittermeier, © Conservation International)
"Of particular concern is the situation in Vietnam and China," Mittermeier continued. "Indeed, with several primates now numbering only in the dozens or low hundreds of individuals, Vietnam is at risk of undergoing a major primate extinction spasm within the next few years if rapid action is not taken. Fully 20 percent of the top 25 primates are located in Vietnam, with another 16 percent from China and 12 percent from Indonesia."

Twenty-three of the 25 primates are found in the world's biodiversity hotspots: 25 regions identified by Conservation International which cover just 1.4 percent of Earth's land surface but harbor more than 60 percent of all terrestrial plant and animal diversity.

According to the report, 48 of the 55 critically endangered primates - 87 percent - and 124 of the 140 endangered primates - 89 percent - are found only in the biodiversity hotspots. Six of the hotspots are considered the highest priorities for the survival of the world's most endangered primates, including Indo-Burma, Madagascar, Sundaland, the Guinean Forests of West Africa, the Atlantic Forests of Brazil, and the Western Ghats/Sri Lanka.


The Natuna banded leaf monkey is found only on Indonesia's Natuna Islands where no protected forest areas exist. (Photo © Suroso/CBCS-UI)
"It's important to point out that the Top 25 list is just the tip of the iceberg and a call for more conservation action," said Bill Konstant of Conservation International and co-author of the report. "Essentially, for each primate on it, any one of several other equally threatened species might have been chosen instead. Changing conditions in any of the represented countries can lead to the rapid decline of any of the 195 species threatened with extinction."

Habitat loss due to the clearing of tropical forests for agriculture, timber extraction and the collection of fuel wood continues to be the major factor in the declining number of primates according to the report. However, hunting has been an insidious and major threat, especially in Africa and Asia.

While hunting was once done mainly for subsistence purposes, it has now taken on a major commercial dimension. Live capture for the pet trade and export for biomedical research have become lesser concerns in recent decades, but still pose a threat to some species.


Considered a crop pest as recently as the 1950's, the white-naped mangabey is now very rare, with hunting the greatest threat to its survival. (Photo by Russell A. Mittermeier, © Conservation International)
As flagship species, primates are important to the health of their surrounding ecosystems. Through the dispersal of fruit seeds and other foods they consume, primates help support a wide range of plant and animal life that make up the earth's forests.

The loss of nonhuman primates is directly linked to the global extinction crisis, the report's authors warn.

"These 25 are facing a very serious risk of extinction due to the ongoing and rapid loss of their forests and, especially in Asia and Africa, their widespread and devastating exploitation for food and body parts, bizarre decoration, and charms or potions," noted Anthony Rylands of the species program at Conservation International's Center for Applied Biodiversity Science (CABS). "The key factor is that all of the species listed as 'critically endangered' and 'endangered' are declining dramatically and require urgent measures for their protection."


The Tana River mangabey is found only in a 37 mile stretch of forest on both sides of the lower Tana River in Kenya. (Photo by Julie Wieczkowski/University of Georgia)
Although still highly endangered, a number of species have been removed from the list first issued in 2000. The golden lion tamarin and the black lion tamarin, for example, have benefited from the protection efforts of the Brazilian Government. Comprehensive conservation and management programs are in place for each - that for the black lion tamarin run by the NGO IPÊ-Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas in collaboration with the Wildlife Preservation Trust, Philadelphia, and that for the golden lion tamarin by the Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado (AMLD) in collaboration with the National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution.

The top 25 most endangered primates, sorted by the regions where they are found, are:

To read the full report, click here.