Primates disappearing at alarming rate, 60pc of species under threat

19 Jan 2017

Image: Karl Steiner /Shutterstock

The plethora of research into disastrous species population decline due to human behaviour is reaching a crescendo, with 60pc of primate species now threatened with extinction.

It’s not a good time to be a primate. Three-quarters of species are suffering from a decline in numbers, and with 60pc now threatened with extinction, the future isn’t painting too colourful a picture.

That’s according to a new piece of research compiled from 31 authors, published in Nature Communications, which draws on information from previous reports, years of research and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) red list.

Image: Wang LiQiang/Shutterstock

Image: Wang LiQiang/Shutterstock

The problem is due to certain pressures that are turning many of the 504 species known to humans into a vanishing act.

These pressures include global and local market demands, leading to extensive habitat loss through the expansion of industrial agriculture, large-scale cattle ranching, logging, oil and gas drilling, mining, dam building, and the construction of new road networks in primate regions.

According to the study, bushmeat hunting, the illegal trade of primates as pets, a more grisly illegal trade of primate body parts and the old favourite, climate change, are also pushing many species to the brink.

Jo Setchell, co-author of the study, said after completing the research that primates are in “dire trouble”.

The decline is mammoth, the extinction threat real. ‘This dismal situation is our fault,” she said.

“Without action, these numbers will grow and more species will disappear forever.”

Image: Nikolay Se/Shutterstock

Image: Nikolay Se/Shutterstock

Primates live in around 90 countries, but the vast majority of species live in Brazil, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Madagascar. In the latter, 87pc of its species face extinction.

In the two decades after 1990, 1.5m sq km of primate habitats have been converted into agricultural lands.

“The threat to primates is a result of political uncertainty, socio-economic instability, organised crime, corruption and policies that favour short-term profit over long-term sustainability.

“It is hard to be positive when faced with human-driven extinction of our closest relatives.”

The aim of the study was twofold: establish the plight of primates and drum up awareness of the gravity of the situation – though the latter might not be as effective as people hope.

For example, just before Christmas, the IUCN’s most recent red list of species under threat went big, highlighting the plummeting giraffe populations in the wild.

Wild tiger populations have plummeted by 97pc in the past 100 or so years, with India’s mangroves, Russia’s snow-covered plains and south-east Asia’s dense rainforests down to their final 3,200.

For this species to be put under such surprising duress is surely the type of call to arms that this scientific field sorely needs – but it does not appear to be happening.

“Biologically, extinction is a normal phenomenon,” said Setchell. “Species evolve, and species go extinct. From time to time in earth’s history, mass extinctions have wiped out huge numbers of species globally.

“However, we cannot accept that we, as one primate species, drive others to extinction when are still able to prevent it.”

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic