So What Can Be Done To Save Primates?


It seems that a lot of you out there are concerned about the latest report from Conservation International on the precarious fate of the 25 most endangered primates and what can be done to save them — quick. For instance, for some species such as the orangutan, it is estimated that there is less than two years to protect the last remaining 40,000 from habitat destruction in places such as Borneo, where forests are being cut down for palm oil production for healthier non-transfat cookies for us.

According to one commenter: "CSPI (Centre for Science in the Public Interest) says: "The ad urges consumers to read labels and to select products with non-hydrogenated soybean, corn, canola, or peanut oils, all of which are more environmentally friendly and better for human hearts and arteries than palm oil. "We can find other ways of making cookies," the ad reads. "We can't find other ways of making orangutans."

Enough said. But cookies are barely the tip of the iceberg. Trust us, it is not pretty — and requires a strong stomach to face. Besides habitat destruction, primates are being "harvested" for biomedical research; they are being captured as pets and also being eaten in large numbers as "bushmeat" — a global phenomenon facilitated by logging, which increases primates' vulnerability to poachers.1. Primate bushmeat: Millions of primates are consumed in the Amazon, Africa and Asia in an illegal global trade estimated over at least a billion dollars (according to a 2004 FAO report, Liberia's bushmeat trade can account for $42 million alone). Poverty, political instability and lack of awareness are the largest contributing factors where this kind of poaching occurs, as primates offer an easy source of protein and are easier to capture due to the logging of their habitats for wood. For hunters, the subsistent and sustainable hunting of past days has degenerated into a profitable, globalized trade in primate slaughter — with 10 tons reaching London's black market alone, according to the BBC (see their film segment on this).


2. Primate pet trade: The global trade in exotic animals is estimated at $12 billion dollars (US). According to Animal Defenders International: "Europe is one of the world's largest markets for wildlife and wildlife products. Smuggling wildlife, including many endangered species, is now the third largest illegal cross-border activity after the arms and drug trades. Poachers are stealing an estimated 38 million animals a year from Brazil's Amazon forests."

Infant primates are ideal for this illegal trade as they live longer and are less aggressive. For the primates unfortunate enough to be kept in captivity like this, there is always a chance of developing diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis, simian herpes, SIV, cytomegalovirus, in addition to being subjected to abuse and isolation from their kin.


3. Biomedical research using primates: A contentious issue, with proponents emphasizing "the importance of using nonhuman primates in biomedical research" for "medical progress" — and opponents underlining the fact that the physical, medical and psychological tests are by their very nature inhumane, in addition to the genetic incompatibilities between certain test primates and humans.

Regardless, the reality is that many primates are captured and imported to Europe and North America, many of them dying before ever reaching the laboratory. Those that do survive are isolated in small metal cages with little to do and besides medical experiments are subjected to stressful conditions, pain and anxiety.

Captive-breeding operations exist as well — it is estimated that 54% of research primates are captive-born. Not surprisingly, even distinguished universities and private companies play a part in the supply and exploitation of primates for disciplines such as microbiology, neuroscience, biochemistry, pharmacology and genetics.

So what can be done to save primates? For one, start by educating yourself on the issues - there is a wealth of information in the links below and on the Web. You can donate your money and time to support anti-logging initiatives in countries where deforestation is threatening primate habitats — and be aware that it is the international demand for various wood and paper products that is fuelling this destruction. Another is to support groups that are trying the end the bushmeat and primate pet trade.

Last but not least, do some more research into the use of primates in biomedical tests and ask yourself if it is not a matter of whether they are conveniently labelled "non-human" or not, but more of whether the tests themselves are "non-humane" or not, and go from there.

See also ::Bushmeat.net, ::Save The Primates, ::Jane Goodall Institute, ::European Coalition to End Animal Experiments, ::Great Ape Project, ::Primate Conservation, Inc., ::International Primate Protection League, ::World Animal Net (world's largest searchable database of animal protection societies), ::Wildlife1

Image: (top) Jonathan Tan, from Wildlife1.org

Tags: Africa | Asia | Deforestation | Extinction