February 19, 2010

Primate Species Under Threat

Mankind's closest living relatives -- apes, monkeys, gorillas, and other primates -- are among the world's most endangered species and are on the brink of extinction unless urgent measures are taken to protect them, according to a Thursday report by conservation groups.

Researchers from all over the world participated to create the top 25 most endangered primate species list. In all, nearly half of the 634 known primate species are considered to be threatened to some degree, said the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The numbers have risen substantially -- only three years ago the numbers for threatened primates was only one third.

Russell Mittermeier, head of the IUCN's primate specialist group, told AFP, "Primates are among the most endangered of all vertebrate groups." Of the top 25, five species are located on Madagascar, six in Africa, three in South America, and eleven in Asia. The most endangered may be the golden-headed langur of Vietnam. Only 60 to 70 individuals remain on the island of Cat Ba in the Gulf of Tonkin.

The northern sportive lemur of Madagascar and the eastern black crested gibbon of northern Vietnam are right behind the langur with around 100 individuals each. Gorillas found along the Cameroon-Nigeria border linger at around 300 individuals.

Experts say, however, that the most endangered species are not always the rarest. 6,000 Sumatran orangutans that live on Indonesia's largest island are threatened due to poor enforcement of conservation measures. They are one of the species placed on the top 25 critically endangered list.

The world"Ëœs rarest primate, the Hainan gibbon of China, named for the island where it is found, is not on the list because of strict Chinese government conservation measures, said Simon Stuart, head of the IUCN's Species Survival Commission, in a phone interview with AFP.

The main threats to primates globally are habitat destruction, mostly through burning and clear-cutting of tropical forests for agricultural purposes. In Southeast Asia, however, one of the main threats is traditional medicines that are made by using animal parts through the illegal trade of wildlife. Hunting has also been a huge factor.

Tropical Asia is one of the worst places "for any animal bigger than a rabbit," said Stuart, talking about illegal wildlife trading. The situation in Vietnam and Laos, he added, is by far the worst.

The UN's Convention on Biological Diversity scheduled for October in Nagoya, Japan, will most likely be a good starting point for garnering support for much needed conservation measures. The resources are out there to address the crisis, "but so far, we have failed to act," said Mittermeier.


Image Caption: Siau Island tarsier (Tarsius tumpara), Indonesia (Siau Island), 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


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