Oct 15

The world’s 25 most endangered primate species have been revealed in a new report released today at the UN’s 11th meeting of the Conferences of the Parties (COP 11) to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Northern sportive lemur, portrait photo

Northern sportive lemur, one of the world’s most endangered primates

The report, entitled ‘Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2012-2014’, lists the primate species which experts believe are most in danger of extinction.

Updated every two years and now in its seventh edition, the list has been compiled by the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group and the International Primatological Society (IPS), in collaboration with Conservation International (CI) and the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation (BCSF).

Under increasing threat

Of the 25 primate species highlighted in the report, nine are from Asia, six from Madagascar, five from Africa and five from South America. Madagascar tops the list in terms of individual countries, having 6 out of the 25 most endangered primate species.

Photo of a young male variegated spider monkey in captivity

The variegated spider monkey is under threat from habitat loss and hunting

Once again, this report shows that the world’s primates are under increasing threat from human activities. Whilst we haven’t lost any primate species yet during this century, some of them are in very dire straits,” said Dr Christoph Schwitzer, Head of Research at the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation.

In particular the lemurs are now one of the world’s most endangered groups of mammals, after more than three years of political crisis and a lack of effective enforcement in their home country, Madagascar. A similar crisis is happening in South-East Asia, where trade in wildlife is bringing many primates very close to extinction.”

An assessment carried out earlier this year by the IUCN found that 91% of Madagascar’s lemurs are threatened with extinction, giving one of the highest levels of threat recorded for any group of vertebrates.

Photo of male cao-vit crested gibbon

The cao-vit crested gibbon has an estimated population of just 110 individuals

Primates in peril

Of the world’s 633 primate species and subspecies whose conservation statuses are known, over half are currently classified as threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The main threats to primates include habitat destruction, particularly the clearing and burning of tropical forests, as well as hunting for food and the illegal wildlife trade.

Conservationists hope that the new report will help to highlight the plight of some of the most endangered primates. For example, one of the species on the list, the pygmy or lesser spectral tarsier, was only known from museum specimens until a few individuals were captured in 2008. Sadly, its few remaining populations are fragmented, isolated and under threat from human encroachment and armed conflict.

Photo of lesser spectral tarsier in the hands of a researcher

The pygmy or lesser spectral tarsier is one of the world’s least known primates

Hope for the future

Despite the gloomy assessment, experts are hopeful that conservation measures for primates can be successful. The efforts of dedicated primate conservationists, together with considerable public support and media interest, mean that no primate species have yet become extinct in either the 20th or 21st centuries.

Several primates that previously appeared on the list of 25 most endangered have now been removed due to their improved conservation statuses, although not all are out of danger. These include the lion-tailed macaque of southwest India, and the greater bamboo lemur of Madagascar.

Photo of greater bamboo lemur on tree branch

The greater bamboo lemur has now been taken off the list of 25 most endangered primates

According to Dr Russell Mittermeier, Chair of the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group and President of Conservation International, primates play a key role in their tropical forest habitats, acting as seed dispersers and helping to maintain forest diversity.

Amazingly, we continue to discover new species every year since 2000. What is more, primates are increasingly becoming a major ecotourism attraction, and primate-watching is growing in interest and serving as a key source of livelihood in many local communities living around protected areas in which these species occur,” he says.

Primates are our closest living relatives and probably the best flagship species for tropical rain forests, since more than 90 percent of all known primates occur in this endangered biome…  It is increasingly being recognised that forests make a major contribution in terms of ecosystem services for people, providing drinking water, food and medicines.”

Read the full report at Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2012-2014.

View photos and videos of primates on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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