Many of our closest relatives are balancing on the brink of extinction, as many primates face unprecedented threats to their survival. Now, the biennial report Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates is highlighting those most at risk of going extinct, with some shocking species making the list.
The report makes for sober reading, as it includes not only many primates that you may have never heard of, but also some worryingly familiar species. As is often the case, the primates of Madagascar feature heavily, with the endemic lemurs often restricted to tiny ranges as they battle hunting and deforestation.
As palm oil plantations spread across Asia, the primates that once lived in the native forest are squeezed out. This year, nine Asian primates are on the list, including the Sulawesi crested macaque (made famous by the one that sued a photographer), as well as the golden snub-nosed monkey.
“We are only now beginning to understand their diversity and their ecological role in these extraordinarily rich and complex environments, yet hunting and the degradation, fragmentation and loss of their habitats is devastating their populations worldwide – more than half of all primates are now threatened,” says Anthony Rylands, the deputy chair of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist group, in a statement.
One of the most surprising additions to the list is the ring-tailed lemur. Despite being popularized by the slightly unhinged King Julian in the Madagascar film series and a staple of many zoological collections, their wild counterparts are faring badly. Considered endangered, although now probably critically so, their population has crashed to as low as 2,000 individuals. This is primarily due to poaching, hunting, and deforestation. It is now thought that there are more captive ring-tailed lemurs than wild ones.
The new list also includes three species of ape. One of these is the eastern lowland gorilla, also known as Grauer’s gorilla, which is a close relation to that of the mountain gorilla. In Asia, both the Bornean orangutan and the Hainan gibbon make the list, with only 30 of the latter thought to survive in China.
This is the first time that Bornean orangutans have appeared in the report, as the deforestation of the rainforests in which they live (due to the palm oil business) has taken its toll on the animals. Even more tragically, since the last report, the researchers have described a third species of the red ape, the Tapanuli orangutan, of which only 800 are thought to survive, and which is sure to make the list in two years’ time.
It is hoped that the list will bring more attention to these imperiled primates and help save them from extinction.