Already, some species of lemurs, monkeys and apes are down to a population of a few thousand individuals, warn the authors of a comprehensive new report.
Are we really going to do this? Are we really going to watch mankind kill off our closest living biological relatives? Because that’s what’s happening, and unless we start making conservation a priority we will lose not only the world’s beautiful primates, but legions of other species as well.
This is the conclusion of a report in the journal Science Advances. The authors of the study – the most comprehensive review of primate populations so far – say that 60 percent of primate species are currently threatened with extinction and some 75 percent have declining populations.
"This truly is the eleventh hour for many of these creatures," says Paul Garber, an anthropology professor from the University of Illinois, who co-led the study with Alejandro Estrada of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
"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. In the case of the Hainan gibbon, a species of ape in China, there are fewer than 30 animals left."
And we have one big kahuna primate to thank for all of this; the one that hunts, pursues the pet and animal parts trade, logs tropical forests, build roads and mines "in needlessly destructive and unsustainable ways," Garber says. "These primates cling to life in the forests of countries such as China, Madagascar, Indonesia, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo."
The most serious threat to the longevity of these species is our rapacious agricultural appetite.
"Agricultural practices are disrupting and destroying vital habitat for 76 percent of all primate species on the planet," says Garber. "In particular, palm oil production, the production of soy and rubber, logging and livestock farming and ranching are wiping out millions of hectares of forest."
"Sadly, in the next 25 years, many of these primate species will disappear unless we make conservation a global priority," he adds. "This, by itself, would be a tragic loss. Now, consider the hundreds of other species facing a similar fate around the world, and you get a sense of what's truly at stake."
And while this is just awful and depressing news, hope is not lost, as the authors conclude: "Despite the impending extinction facing many of the world’s primates, we remain adamant that primate conservation is not yet a lost cause, and we are optimistic that the environmental and anthropogenic pressures leading to population declines can still be reversed."
Read the whole review here.