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Primates are a group of animals that include lemurs, monkeys, apes as well as humans. The first ancestors appeared about 65 million years ago and survived the extinction period of the dinosaurs, like a squirrel with a shrew’s face. Ten million years later the phylogenetic tree of primates began to take shape with strepsyrrhine prosimians (lemurs from Madagascar, Indonesian lories and African bushbabies) and Asian haplorrine tarsiers. The latter group also includes monkeys which are subdivided into platyrrhines (from the New World) and catarrhines (from the Old World).[1]

 Each group has evolved independently, and their physical traits have unique characteristics. Some have prehensile tails like the South American aluatta, others have large eyes to see in the dark like tarsiers, or opposable thumbs like gorillas.

[1] Primates evolution, Lumen Learning: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-biology/chapter/the-evolution-of-primates/

The greatest threat to primates worldwide is habitat loss: the expansion of human activities for agriculture, mining and urbanization causes deforestation, desertification and pollution of natural water reserves. 

Poaching and illegal trafficking also contributes to the decrease in population numbers, and the illegal captivity as pets in private facilities such as hotels and houses for entertainment has, lead many to irreversible psychological traumas. Another problem affecting primates are diseases, many of which can also be transmitted into humans (HIV, Ebola, leprosy and even Covid-19).

Climate change also represents a salient challenge for this group. The rise in temperature has disturbed many species with increased incidence of droughts preventing the growth of fruit and flowers, the main food source for primates.

Finally, the factor of invasive species, where some primate species are introduced into a different habitats different  from their own, by pet monkey collectors,  presents a big problem. Parasitism, competition for food and hybridization undermine the survival of local species that have kept the gene pool intact for millions of years.[2]

[2] Invasive primates, Mongabay: https://news.mongabay.com/2012/03/invasive-primates-threaten-atlantic-forest-natives/

PRIMATES STATUS

As per IUCN data, there are 521 species of primates worldwide all of which are members of terrestrial habitats. Now as many as 60% of primate species are at risk of extinction.[3] 

The IUCN reported the 25 primate species close to extinction, in the latest 2018-2020 report. Among them stands out the new species of orangutan “Pongo tapanuliensis”, whose genomic differences were identified in 2017, and with only 800 individuals in the wild it is already on the verge of extinction.[4]

Although new species of primates continue to be discovered, especially in tropical forest habitats with naturally dense biodiversity many species have already dwindled to small concerning numbers owing to human activities such as deforestation, mineral extraction, and dams.

[3] SciencesAdvances: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.1600946

[4] Primates in peril: https://cdn.rewild.org/2019/10/Primates-in-Peril-2018-2020-2.pdf

Possible Solutions

The critically endangered, endangered, and vulnerable primates can be protected by taking several actions.

Firstly, site/area protection and management, resource and habitat protection, habitat and natural process restoration would ensure their continued breeding and propagation through reforestation and afforestation processes.

Besides, sustainable agricultural, forestry and industrialization activities need to be limited by introducing appropriate laws and regulations as part of species management.

In addition, developing national conservation parks and rescue centers would be essential in areas of concern for species recovery. For example, the Kibale National Park, Uganda is a protected area in Sub-Saharan Africa which is home to 13 primate species including the rare mountain gorilla and the chimpanzee.[5]

Likewise, species re-introduction should be carried out by establishing in-situ conservation facilities such as rehabilitation centers.

Furthermore, 183 countries around the world have signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which is aimed at prevention of illegal wildlife trade such as small monkeys to ensure strict conservation of threatened species.[6] There are currently 60 species of primates included in the CITES list, including Coiba Island Howler

Monkey, Lion Tamarins, Gray Langur, dwarf lemurs Eastern Gorilla, Slow Lorises.[7]

Finally, crucial awareness revolving the threatened status if primates should be spread through formal education, training, and campaigns in social/print/visual media.

[5] Uganda Wildlife Authority: https://www.ugandawildlife.org/explore-our-parks/parks-by-name-a-z/kibale-national-park

[6] PASA CITES: https://pasa.org/cites/

[7] PASA List: https://primatecarewelfare.wordpress.com/conservation/law-and-policy/cites-and-cbd/

WSO's Activities and Initiatives

WSO Friend of the Earth project is acting to save endangered primates in the following ways:

  • Certifying and promoting products from sustainable agriculture and farming to promote the preservation of pristine habitats.
  • Launching a Change.org petition.
  • Organize and attend seminars, symposiums, conferences to inform the local communities and wider public about threatened primate species and their role in data collection and vigilance against illegal trading.
  • Funding and collaborate with scientific projects on endangered species.

Our project and collaborations

The WSO’s “Save the primates” project aims to raise awareness of the status of primates, which is one of the most endangered animal groups in the world.

Starting from January 2022 we have collaborated with the University of Turin and the U Onlus Association[8] of the research group of Prof. Cristina Giacoma in their Maromizaha Conservation project. The studies on the forest and on the indri, the largest existing lemur, have been ongoing for 15 years in the Multipurpose Center of the Maromizaha Reserve in Madagascar.

[8] U Onlus: https://www.uonlus.it/

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