Extinction Risk for 1 in 3 Primates, Study Says

National Geographic News
October 8, 2002

One in every three of the world's apes, monkeys, lemurs, and other primates is now endangered with extinction, according to a report released this week by Conservation International (CI) and the Primate Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

Primate species and sub-species classified as "critically endangered" and "endangered" jumped nearly two-thirds from 120 to 195 since the initial report was issued in January 2000.

The report ("The World's Top 25 Most Endangered Primates—2002") was finalized during a recent gathering of the International Primatological Society, at its 19th Congress in Beijing, China.

Asia now accounts for almost half of the world's most endangered primates, with 11 listed in the top 25, including six that are new additions. Africa (eight), central and South America (three), and Madagascar (three) are home to the other primates on the list. These include the Sumatran orangutan of Indonesia, the mountain gorilla of Africa, and northern muriqui of Brazil.

"Asia has now become the world leader in endangered primates," said Conservation International President Russ Mittermeier. "Of particular concern is the situation in Vietnam and China. 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 less than 2 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 and 124 of the 140 endangered primates 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: Indo-Burma, Madagascar, Sundaland (a region including parts of Malaysia and Indonesia), the Guinean Forests of West Africa, the Atlantic Forests of Brazil, and the Western Ghats/Sri Lanka.

"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," said the report's authors. "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."

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.

Nonhuman primates are our closest living relatives, and their loss is directly linked to the global extinction crisis.

"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," said Anthony Rylands of the Species Program at Conservation International's Center for Applied Biodiversity Science. "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."

Although still highly endangered, a number of species have been removed from the list issued in 2000. The golden lion tamarin and the black lion tamarin, for example, have benefited from efforts for their protection by the Brazilian government. Comprehensive conservation and management programs are in place for each one of them.

Continued on Next Page >>


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