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Primates on the brink


New report on 25 most endangered primates shows mankind’s closest living relatives under threat around the world

Mankind’s closest living relatives-the world’s apes, monkeys, lemurs and other primates-face increasing peril from humans and some could soon disappear forever, according to a report released today by the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN-The World Conservation Union’s Species Survival Commission (SSC) and the International Primatological Society (IPS), in collaboration with Conservation International (CI).

Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates-2004-2006 reveals that 25 percent-or one in four-of the 625 primate species and subspecies are at risk of extinction. The report compiled by more than 50 experts from 16 countries cites deforestation, commercial bushmeat hunting, and the illegal animal trade as the primary threats, and warns that failure to respond will bring the first primate extinctions in more than a century.

The golden-headed langur of Vietnam and China’s Hainan gibbon number only in the dozens. 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 now restricted to tiny patches of tropical forest, leaving them vulnerable to rapid eradication. Hunters kill primates for food and to sell the meat, traders capture them for live sale, and loggers, farmers, and land developers destroy their habitat.

"More and more, mankind’s closest living relatives are being cornered into shrinking areas of tropical forest," said CI President Russell A. Mittermeier, who also chairs the IUCN-SSC Primate Specialist Group. "This is especially true of Madagascar, one of the planet’s biodiversity hotspots that has lost most of its original forest cover. More than half its lemurs, none 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 World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates list, compiled at the 20th Congress of the International Primatological Society in Turin, Italy, follows similar reports in 2000 and 2002. Fifteen of the primates on the new list, including the Sumatran orangutan of Indonesia and the northern muriqui of Brazil, are "three-time losers" for having appeared on all three lists. Seven are new additions to the 2004-2006 list, and three appeared once before.

Madagascar and Vietnam each have four primates on the new list, while Brazil and Indonesia have three, followed by Sri Lanka and Tanzania with two each, and one each from Colombia, China, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, and Democratic Republic of Congo. Some primates on the list are found in more than one country.

By region, the list includes 10 from Asia, seven from Africa, four from Madagascar, and four from South America, showing that threats to monkeys, lemurs, great apes and other non-human primates exist wherever they live.

All 25 primates on the 2004-2006 list are found in the world’s biodiversity hotspots-34 regions identified by Conservation International that cover just 2.3 percent of the Earth’s land surface but harbor well over 50 percent of all terrestrial plant and animal diversity. Eight of the hotspots are considered the highest priorities for the survival of the most endangered primates: Indo-Burma, Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands, Sundaland, Eastern Afromontane, Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa, Guinean Forests of West Africa, the Atlantic Forest of Brazil, and Western Ghats-Sri Lanka.

Habitat loss due to the clearing of tropical forests for agriculture, logging, and the collection of fuel wood continues to be the major factor in the declining number of primates, according to the report. Hunting for subsistence and commercial purposes also is a major and insidious threat, especially in Africa and Asia. Live capture for the pet trade also poses a serious threat, particularly to Asian species.

"Southeast Asia’s primates are subject to relentless poaching because of the profits to be made from the illegal trade," said Chantal Elkin, manager of the Threatened Species Program in CI’s Center for Applied Biodiversity Science. "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. Most of this trade appears to be international, primarily to China."

As "Flagship Species" and our closest living relatives, nonhuman primates are important to the health of their surrounding ecosystems. Through the dispersal of seeds and other interactions with their environments, primates help support a wide range of plant and animal life that make up the Earth’s forests.

The 2004-2006 list focuses on the severity of the overall threat rather than mere numbers. Some on the list, such as the Sumatran orangutan, still number in the low thousands but are disappearing at a faster rate than other primates. The December tsunamis that devastated coastal Sumatra have triggered a possible new threat to orangutan habitat from resettlement of area residents.

Changes to the list from 2002 reflect a desire to draw attention to other endangered primates. For example, Miss Waldron’s red colobus, which has gone decades without a live sighting, was replaced by the Bioko red colobus to show that other colobus species also are under extremely grave threat.

"All evidence tells us that the first extinctions among Africa’s primates will occur among the red colobus," said Thomas Butynski, director of CI’s Eastern Africa Biodiversity Hotspots Program. "Miss Waldron’s red colobus in Ghana and Ivory Coast, and Bouvier’s red colobus in the Republic of Congo may already be extinct, while the Tana River red colobus in Kenya and Bioko red colobus in Equatorial Guinea could be gone within the next 20 years."

The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, and the countries where they are found:

Greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus)

White-collared lemur (Eulemur albocollaris)

Perrier’s sifaka (Propithecus perrieri)

Silky sifaka (Propithecus candidus)

Eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei)
Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda

Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli)
Nigeria, Cameroon

Mt. Rungwe galago (an as yet undescribed form of the genus Galagoides)

Tana River red colobus (Procolobus rufomitratus)

White-naped mangabey (Cercocebus atys lunulatus)
Ghana, Ivory Coast

Sanje mangabey (Cercocebus sanjei)

Bioko red colobus (Procolobus pennantii pennantii)
Equatorial Guinea (Island of Bioko)

Black-faced lion tamarin (Leontopithecus caissara)

Buffy-headed tufted capuchin (Cebus xanthosternos)

Northern muriqui (Brachyteles hypoxanthus)
Brown spider monkey (Ateles hybridus brunneus)

Horton Plains slender loris (Loris lydekkerianus nycticeboides)
Sri Lanka

Miller’s grizzled surili (Presbytis hosei canicrus)
Indonesia (Kalimantan)

Pagai pig-tailed snub-nosed monkey (Simias concolor)
Indonesia (Mentawai Islands)

Delacour’s langur (Trachypithecus delacouri)

Golden-headed langur (Trachypithecus poliocephalus poliocephalus)

Western purple-faced langur (Semnopithecus vetulus nestor)
Sri Lanka

Grey-shanked douc (Pygathrix nemaeus cinerea)

Tonkin snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus avunculus)

Hainan black-crested gibbon (Nomascus nasutus hainanus)
China (Hainan Island)

Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) Indonesia (Sumatra)

Tom Cohen | EurekAlert!
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