The review, the most comprehensive of its kind to date and published in Science Advances, paints a dire future for our closest biological relatives. Their only hope hangs on global conservation becoming an immediate priority, the international team of authors says.
"It is possible that some primates will go extinct in our lifetimes if we don't increase our efforts dramatically," Russell Mittermeier, a primatologist who is the president of Conservation International, told Seeker from a Madagascar airport.
Madagascar is one of just four countries—with Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo being the other three—that host two-thirds of all species of primates. Mittermeier, who is also the chair of the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group, explained that "primates are largely tropical rainforest animals," and these countries have such habitat, although these once-lush landscapes are shrinking across the planet.
A species of monkey might have already gone extinct during your lifetime: Miss Waldron's red colobus monkey. It was reportedly last seen in 1978.
Paul Garber, who co-led the new study with Alejandro Estrada, said, "Several species of lemurs, monkeys and apes—such as the ring-tailed lemur, Udzunga red colobus monkey, Yunnan snub-nosed monkey, white-headed langur and Grauer's gorilla—are down to a population of a few thousand individuals."
Garber added, "In the case of the Hainan gibbon, a species of ape in China, there are fewer than 30 animals left."
|Forest converted to soy fields in Brazil.|
Reducing the impact of such threats would require addressing issues concerning local poverty and population growth, Garber said.
"Building economies based on the preservation of forests and their primate inhabitants, and broadening educational opportunities for women would begin to address some of the greatest threats to these animals."
Those proposed solutions, however, will need substantial time to implement, and primates are running out of time. Given their low populations, most are "in the eleventh hour," Garber said.
Mittermeier agrees that the drivers of primate destruction clearly must be addressed, "but if that is all we do, the primates will be gone before we have the impact desired."
He continued, "We need very specific targeted approaches to primate conservation, focusing on the highest priority regions, ensuring that protected areas work where they already exist and creating new ones where they don't, and carrying out targeted efforts for the most endangered."
|Yunnan snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus bieti) in China.|
Madagascar, with its 111 species and subspecies of primates—94 percent of which are endangered—offers particularly rewarding ecotourism opportunities. Mittermeier explained that the country has been isolated from the rest of the world for at least 90 million years, so primates evolved there to fill many different ecological niches.
Read more at Discovery News