These grim realities are outlined in a recent report in the journal Science Advances, which explains how various issues threaten the extinction of about 60 percent of primate species, while about 75 percent face declining populations.
“This truly is the 11th hour for many of these creatures,” said University of Illinois anthropology professor Paul Garber, who co-led the study with Alejandro Estrada of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. “Several species of lemurs, monkeys and apes are down to a population of a few thousand individuals.”
One such species, the Sumatran orangutan, is critically endangered after losing 60 percent of its habitat between 1985 and 2007, according to Garber.
“In the case of the Hainan gibbon, a species of ape in China, there are fewer than 30 animals left,” he said.
The team points to illegal animal trading, hunting and habitat loss from logging of tropical forests as some of the most significant threats to these at-risk primates.
“Sadly, in the next 25 years, many of these primate species will disappear unless we make conservation a global priority. This, by itself, would be a tragic loss,” Garber said. “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.”
Just four nations – Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia and Madagascar – host two-thirds of all species of primates, which makes them obvious targets for efforts to halt and possibly reverse the global extinction trend, the team says.
The threats outlined in the report are largely tied to high rates of population growth and poor economic conditions in nearby communities.
“Addressing local poverty and easing population growth is a necessary component of primate conservation,” Garber said. “Building economies based on the preservation of forests and their primate inhabitants, and broadening educational opportunities for women would begin to address some of the greatest threats to these animals.”
Of the issues affecting these species, the report concludes that humanity’s growing agricultural footprint is the most hazardous.
“Agricultural practices are disrupting and destroying vital habitat for 76 percent of all primate species on the planet,” Garber said.
“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.”