“Mankind’s closest relatives – the world’s monkeys, apes and other primates – are disappearing from the face of the Earth, with some literally being eaten into extinction.”
One of the world’s leading primate authorities, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), issued a new, and alarming report, Primates In Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2008-2010 (PDF), on the dire state of primates throughout the world. Of the 634 known species of primates, almost half are now facing extinction. There are a number of varying pressures that threaten these species: the slash and burning of forests for agriculture; hunting (by humans) for bushmeat; habitat loss; climate change; charcoal and firewood collection; urbanization, and other causes.
Indeed, the biggest threats to the world’s primates is habitat loss, in particular, the burning of tropical forests. Scientists estimate that (at least) 20% of the amount of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming are a direct result of the burning of these forests.
The report provides some optimism for hope. If the forests can be protected from further destruction, with human interventions and care, these primates can survive. “If you have forests, you can save primates,” said CI scientist Anthony Rylands, the deputy chair of the IUCN Primate Specialist Group. “The work with lion tamarins shows that conserving forest fragments and reforesting to create corridors that connect them is not only vital for primates, but offers the multiple benefits of maintaining healthy ecosystems and water supplies while reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.”
There is a complex, and rich interplay between primates and their environment that provides a foundation for sustainable ecosystems that continue and evolve over time. That such a large percentage of primates, our nearest nonhuman relatives, are in such immediate peril, does not bode well for humans, unless we actively engage to reverse the tide.