Extinction Looms for 25 Endangered Primates

WASHINGTON, DC, January 10, 2000 (ENS) - Twenty-five species of monkeys, apes, gibbons, lemurs and other primates could soon become extinct according to some of the world's most knowledgable primate experts.

tamarin

Golden lion tamarin found in Brazil (Photo by Russell Mittermeier courtesy Conservation International)
All primate species survived the last 100 years, but a report released today by Conservation International and the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN, the World Conservation Union's Species Survival Commission, lists the 25 primates now most at risk. In some cases, only a few hundred individuals survive.

"As we enter the new millennium, we risk losing our closest living relatives in the Animal Kingdom, as well as many of the world's highest biodiversity areas that these animals have come to symbolize," said Russell Mittermeier, Conservation International president who chairs the Primate Specialist Group.

Of the 25 primates listed, 24 are found exclusively in seven of the world's 25 "biodiversity hotspots." These areas have the world's richest diversity of land animals and at the same time are experiencing some of the most extreme habitat destruction.

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Delacour's langur found in Vietnam (Photo by Tilo Nadlur courtesy Conservation International)
The main threats to primates are tropical forest habitat destruction and local bushmeat hunting, the report says. Live capture for the pet trade and export for biomedical research also threaten some species.

"Close to 20 percent of the world's primates stand a reasonable chance of disappearing within the next 10 to 20 years unless we take decisive action," said William Konstant, co-author of the report.

The list includes primates recently discovered or rediscovered whose populations are most likely perilously small, but for which no estimates exist, as well as species whose populations were stable only a few years ago but are now under serious threat of extinction.

The list also features primates that have only recently been recognized as distinct, and so have not been the specific focus of conservation measures.

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Javan gibbons found in Indonesia (Photo by Russell Mittermeier courtesy Conservation International)
Biodiversity hotspots, where 96 percent of the most threatened primates live, are identified by Conservation International as 25 places that cover only 1.4 percent of the Earth's land surface, but claim more than 60 percent of all plant and animal diversity.

Hotspots with the most endangered primates are Indo-Burma especially Vietnam, Madagascar, Brazil's Atlantic Forest Region, the Guinean Forests of West Africa and Sundaland.

"The plight of primates is a jarring wake-up call. Our planet is on the brink of a major extinction crisis. The questions we face now are - will we be the first generation in a century to lose a primate species? Or will we be the generation to find lasting solutions?" asked Peter Seligmann, CI chairman and CEO.

The top 25 most endangered primates, and the hotspots where they are found, are:

Madagascar and Indian Ocean Islands Hotspot:

Atlantic Forest Region Hotspot:

Tropical Andes Hotspot:

Guinean Forests of West Africa Hotspot:

Eastern Arc Mountains and Coastal Forests of Tanzania and Kenya Hotspot

Indo-Burma Hotspot:

Sundaland Hotspot:

Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda (not among the hotspots):

"The Cross River gorilla is a good example of why we must be very careful not to neglect possible diversity. In the nick of time we have realized these gorillas are distinct, just before it is finally too late to save them from oblivion," said Dr. John Oates, primatologist with Hunter College - CUNY, and co-author with Esteban Sarmiento of the American Museum of Natural History, of the re-description of the Cross River gorilla.

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Cat Ba Island golden-headed langur found in Vietnam. (Photo by Russell Mittermeier courtesy Conservation International)
During a recent trip to Vietnam, Mittermeier and Konstant saw the rare Cat Ba Island golden-headed langur in the wild. It is found only on the island of Cat Ba in Halong Bay and is believed to number as few as 100 individuals.

Based on the results of recent surveys in West Africa, at least four different monkeys appear to be vanishing right before our eyes, the authors warn.

The dire situation of Miss Waldron's red colobus was described in the 1996 IUCN Red List, and the last chance for its survival may be a small tract of swamp forest in the Ivory Coast. The white-naped mangabey, Sclater's guenon and drill, whose status only a few years ago apparently was not considered critical, are now targets of a burgeoning bushmeat trade in West Africa and entire populations are disappearing.

This list of the most endangered primates could easily have been expanded to 40 or perhaps 50 primates whose conservation status is cause for concern, Mittermeier and Konstant say.

Conservation International works in 27 countries on four continents applying innovations in science, economics, policy and community participation to protect the Earth's richest regions of plant and animal diversity in the hotspots, major tropical wilderness areas and key marine ecosystems.