Almost a Third of Primates in Danger of Extinction

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — Almost a third of all apes, monkeys and other primates are in danger of going extinct because of rampant destruction of their tropical habitat, the commercial sale of bush meat and the trade in illegal wildlife, a report released Friday said.

Twenty-five of the most endangered primates are singled out in the report, which was to be presented at the International Primatological Society in Hainan, China.

Among those most at risk are the Miss Waldron's red colobus of Ivory Coast and Ghana, the Golden-headed langur of Vietnam and China's Hainan gibbon, whose numbers have dwindled to 17. The Horton Plains slender loris of Sri Lanka has been sighted just four times since 1937.

"You could fit all the surviving members of the 25 species in a single football stadium; that's how few of them remain on Earth today," said Conservation International President Russell A. Mittermeier, who also chairs the World Conservation Union's Primate Specialist Group which prepared the report with the International Primatological Society and Conservation International.

"The situation is worst in Asia, where tropical forest destruction and the hunting and trading of monkeys puts many species at terrible risk," he said. "Even newly discovered species are severely threatened from loss of habitat and could soon disappear."

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Africa | Thailand | Vietnam | Madagascar | Conservation International | World Conservation Union | David Longstreath | Mittermeier
Overall, 114 of the world's 394 primate species are classified as threatened with extinction by the World Conservation Union or IUCN.

The 25 most endangered primates include 11 from Asia, seven from Africa, four from Madagascar and three from South and Central America. The list includes well-known primates like the Sumatran orangutan of Indonesia and the Cross River gorilla of Cameroon and Nigeria as well as lesser known species such as the Greater bamboo lemur from Madagascar.

Six species are on the biannual report for the first time, including a recently discovered Indonesian tarsier that has yet to be formally named and the Kipunji from Tanzania, which was discovered in 2003.

"Some of the new species we discover are endangered from the get go because they are living in restricted areas," Mittermeier said. "If you find a news species and it's living in an area heavily impacted by habitat destruction and hunting, you recognize it's in trouble."

Habitat loss due to the clearing of tropical forests for agriculture, logging, and the collection of fuel wood continues to be the major factor in the declining number of primates, according to the report.

In addition, climate change is altering the habitats of many species, leaving those with small habitat ranges even more vulnerable to extinction, it says.

Hunting for subsistence and commercial purposes is another major threat to primates, especially in Africa and Asia. Live capture for the pet trade also poses a serious threat, particularly to Asian species, the report found.

Four primates species on the list from Vietnam have been "decimated" by hunting for their meat and bones, according to Barney Long, a conservation biologist based in Vietnam for WWF Greater Mekong Program.

"All four species are close to extinction," Long said, of Delacour's langur, Golden-headed langur, Grey-shanked douc and Tonkin snub-nosed monkey. "The key populations have been stabilized. But there needs to be a lot more law enforcement and work to persuade local communities to support conservation for those numbers to increase."

But the news, the report says, is not all bad.

Nine primates from the last report in 2004 were taken off mostly because of bolstered conservation efforts to save their populations. Among them are the Eastern gorilla from Africa, the Black-faced lion tamarin and the Buffy-headed tufted capuchin from Brazil and the Perrier's sifaka from Madagascar.

"If you invest in a species in a proper way and do the conservation measures needed, you can reduce risk of extinction," Mittermeier said. "If we had resources, we would be able to take every one of the species off the list in the next five or 10 years."

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