Humans push half of the world's primates toward extinction, lemurs in particular trouble

Jeremy Hance
February 18, 2010

Experts release list of the world's top 25 most endangered primates.

Of the known 634 primate species in the world 48 percent are currently threatened with extinction, making mankind's closes relatives one of the most endangered animal groups in the world. In order to bring awareness to the desperate state of primates, a new report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature highlights twenty-five primates in the most need of rapid conservation action.

"This report makes for very alarming reading and it underlines the extent of the danger facing many of the world’s primates," says report editor Dr Christoph Schwitzer, advisor to the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group and Head of Research at the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation. "We hope it will be effective in drawing attention to the plight of each of the 25 species included. Support and action to help save these species is vital if we are to avoid losing these wonderful animals forever."

Less than 100 Northern sportive lemurs (Lepilemur septentrionalis) survive in Madagascar. The species is threatened by charcoal collection and hunting. Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2008–2010 has been compiled by the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC) and the International Primatological Society (IPS), in collaboration with Conservation International (CI). © CI/ photo by Russell A. Mittermeier.
Compiled by 85 experts the report, entitled Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, 2008–2010, includes six primates from Africa, eleven from Asia, three from Central and South America, and five from the island of Madagascar.

The fact that one-fifth of the primates on the list are from Madagascar is noteworthy since the country is currently undergoing a logging and bushmeat crisis, largely unreported by the mainstream media. After a government coup in March of last year, Madagascar's world-renowned national parks were infiltrated by illegal loggers. Tens of thousands of hectares have been impacted and the resulting instability has caused a boom in lemur bushmeat hunting, where the rare animals are killed and then sold as meat in restaurants. All of Madagascar's primates on the list are lemurs: the greater bamboo lemur, the gray-headed lemur, Sclater's black lemur, northern sportive lemur, and the silky sifaka. The northern sportive lemur (Lepilemur septentrionalis) is the worst-off with a population estimated at less than 100. As the crisis continues, it is difficult to know just how these lemurs are faring amid the plunder.

Vietnam is also home to primates on the edge, including the golden headed langur (Trachypithecus p. poliocephalus), which is endemic to the island of Cat Ba in the Gulf of Tonkin. Primatologists say only 60-70 golden headed langurs survive. Also in Vietnam is the eastern black crested gibbons (Nomascus nasutus) with just over a hundred individuals. Almost half of the primates on the list (44 percent) are in Asia.

Popularity does not ensure a primate's survival. On the list is the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii), which has suffered from deforestation and habitat loss for oil palm plantations and logging. Currently the Sumatran orangutan is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List with a population estimated at 7,000 and dropping. Researchers say the Sumatran orangutan has lost over 80 percent of its population in 75 years.

Siau Island tarsier (Tarsius tumpara) is endemic to Siau Island, Indonesia and is threatened by habitat degradation and "hunting for snack food". Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2008–2010 has been compiled by the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC) and the International Primatological Society (IPS), in collaboration with Conservation International (CI). © Geoff Deehan
The threats to the world's primate makes for long and grim reading: habitat loss, deforestation, bushmeat hunting, pet trade, mining, charcoal and firewood collection, roads, agriculture and plantation expansion, use in traditional medicine, dogs, urbanization, dam construction, fur trade, and climate change

"The purpose of our Top 25 list is to highlight those that are most at risk, to attract the attention of the public, to stimulate national governments to do more, and especially to find the resources to implement desperately-needed conservation measures," says Dr Russell Mittermeier, Chair of the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group and President of Conservation International. "We want governments to commit to these measures when they gather in Japan in October."

A UN meeting on the extinction crisis is set for Nagoya, Japan this fall. 2010 is the UN International Year of Biodiversity in order to highlight the importance of the world's biodiversity. Eight years ago nations pledged that by this year they would achieve a 'significant reduction' in biodiversity loss. But if anything the extinction crisis is worse today than it was in 2002 with many ecologists stating that we are in the midst of a mass extinction.

Still there has been some positive news for primates over the past decade, especially in Brazil. Conservation efforts have brought back from the brink both the black lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysopygus) and the golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia). While their populations remain small, targeted conservation efforts have stabilized them. Now reforestation efforts are needed to ensure their long-term survival. While these are just two positive examples out of several hundred gloomy ones, Mittermeier ensures us that we can learn—and hope—from the these successes.

"We have the resources to address this crisis, but so far, we have failed to act," he says.

The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates: 2008–2010, by region:


Greater Bamboo Lemur (Prolemur simus)
Gray-headed Lemur (Eulemur cinereiceps)
Sclater’s Black Lemur/Blue-Eyed Black Lemur (Eulemur flavifrons)
Northern sportive lemur (Lepilemur septentrionalis)
Silky Sifaka (Propithecus candidus)


Rondo Dwarf Galago (Galagoides rondoensis)
Roloway Guenon (Cercopithecus diana roloway)
Tana River Red Colobus (Procolobus rufomitratus)
Niger Delta Red Colobus Monkey (Procolobus epieni)
Kipunji (Rungwecebus kipunji)
Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli)


Siau Island Tarsier (Tarsius tumpara)
Javan Slow Loris (Nycticebus javanicus)
Simakobu or Pig-Tailed Snub-Nose Langur (Simias concolor)
Delacour’s Langur (Trachypithecus delacouri)
Golden-headed Langur or Cat Ba Langur (Trachypithecus p. poliocephalus)
Western Purple-faced Langur Trachypithecus (Semnopithecus vetulus nestor)
Grey-shanked Douc Monkey (Pygathrix cinerea)
Tonkin Snub-nosed Monkey (Rhinopithecus avunculus)
Eastern Black Crested Gibbon (Nomascus nasutus)
Western Hoolock Gibbon (Hoolock hoolock)
Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii)

Central and South America

Cotton-top Tamarin (Saguinus oedipus)
Variegated or Brown Spider Monkey (Ateles hybridus)
Peruvian Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey (Oreonax flavicauda)

Peruvian yellow-tailed woolly monkey (Oreonax flavicauda)is threatened by deforestation and hunting. Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2008–2010 has been compiled by the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC) and the International Primatological Society (IPS), in collaboration with Conservation International (CI). © CI/photo by Stephen D. Nash.

Sclater’s lemurs (Eulemur flavifrons) in Madagascar are threatened by forest loss, hunting, and capture for the pet trade. Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2008–2010 has been compiled by the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC) and the International Primatological Society (IPS), in collaboration with Conservation International (CI). © CI/photo by Russell A. Mittermeier.

Cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus) in Colombia. Once captured for biomedical research, this species is now threatened by forest loss for farming, oil palm plantations, cattle, hydroelectric projects, and logging. It is also a victim of the pet trade. Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2008–2010 has been compiled by the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC) and the International Primatological Society (IPS), in collaboration with Conservation International (CI). © CI/photo by Russell A. Mittermeier.

The Sumatran orangutan is threatened by an increasingly restricted and fragmented range due to forest loss for oil palm plantations, agriculture, logging, and roads. Orangutans are also sometimes killed as pests and even for food. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (February 18, 2010).

Humans push half of the world's primates toward extinction, lemurs in particular trouble.