Primates are a diverse order of mammals consisting of more than five hundred species that include lemurs, tarsiers, apes, galagos, and lorises (Groves, Napier, et al). Not only is it the third most diverse order of mammals, but primates are also humans’ closest biological relatives (Garber). These species are an essential part of the ecosystems and tropical biodiversity, playing a key role in forest regeneration. Around 90% of all primate species inhabit tropical forest regions in Asia, Africa, and the Neotropics (Mittermeier).
Western lowland gorilla. Image courtesy of Congo Conservation Company [https://news.mongabay.com/2022/08/indigenous-lands-and-knowledge-are-essential-for-saving-primates-from-extinction-says-new-study/ ]
Research has shown that 68% of the non-human primate population ‘are in danger of extinction, while 93% have declining populations globally’ (Cummins). The order is threatened by a variety of factors, most of which are driven by disastrous human activity, including large-scale deforestation and bushmeat hunting practices. These escalating anthropogenic pressures do not allow primates to live in safety, as their homes are being destroyed, their lands are being taken away, and they themselves are being targeted by hunters.
Agricultural production and the extraction of natural resources are the main causes of extensive primates’ habitat loss (Estrada, Garber, et al). Paul Garber, an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Program in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology at the University of Illinois, emphasizes the threat posed by mining. Multinational corporations working in tropical forests usually aim to ‘extract resources as quickly and as cheaply as they can. No matter which industry, there is rarely an attempt made to do it in a way that is sustainable’ (Garber). Economic growth puts a great strain on primate species that are challenged by both global and local market demands. Embracing sustainability in all fields involved is crucial to ensure primates’ safety.
The woolly spider monkey is among other primate species in the Atlantic Forest patches that suffered a population loss due to yellow fever. Image by Stephen Davis via Wikimedia Commons [https://news.mongabay.com/2022/08/indigenous-lands-and-knowledge-are-essential-for-saving-primates-from-extinction-says-new-study/ ]
Many species are being killed for culinary purposes, particularly in the Amazonian region of South America, West Africa, and Central Africa (Mittermeier). These overhunting practices have resulted in the decline in populations of such species as woolly monkeys and spider monkeys. The order is also subject to live trapping, being sold as pets or exhibits, and is used in biomedical testing and research mostly due to primates’ similarities to human beings.
Primates’ alarming population decline must be addressed. Some solutions aimed to avert this extinction crisis include relocating animals to safer areas, publicising conservation issues, increasing penalties for illegal hunting and primate trade, anti-poaching patrols, and expanding protected habitats for endangered primate species (Setchell). People in developing countries often rely on bushmeat to survive, which is why it is argued by some conservation scientists that the development of sustainable hunting practices, which would focus ‘on smaller species less at risk of disappearing’, is needed (Pennisi). The more serious issue in this case, however, is commercial hunting associated with the thriving international bushmeat trade. To address this problem, raising global scientific and public awareness should be emphasized.
A recent study published by Science Advances aimed to explore the importance of Indigenous Peoples’ lands, whose significance revolves around safeguarding primate biodiversity. They discovered that as the range of such lands inhabited by primates increases, their populations are less likely to decline (Estrada, Garber, et al). Indigenous peoples' ‘traditional beliefs, practices, and knowledge systems based on living with local ecosystems and exploiting them sustainably, hold important conservation lessons for the world’ (Brown). While their lands account for approximately 30% of the species’ range, as much as 71% of primates inhabit these areas (Estrada, Garber, et al), which is why safeguarding them might play an essential role in preserving endangered primate species.
Primates are intelligent creatures that use problem-solving skills, have developed cognitive abilities, and understand symbols. Our planet is not and will not be ready to bear the costs of primates’ loss to the ecosystem health, and human society. More effective law enforcement, conservation policies, political will, and bold changes are essential. We need to take action now to avert the crisis.
Brown, Kimberley. “Indigenous Lands, Knowledge Are Essential for Saving Primates from Extinction, Says New Study.” Mongabay Environmental News, 11 Aug. 2022, news.mongabay.com/2022/08/indigenous-lands-and-knowledge-are-essential-for-saving-primates-from-extinction-says-new-study/. Accessed 22 Feb. 2023.
Cummins, Anna. “Over Half of Primates Now Facing Extinction, New Report Says.” CNN, 19 Jan. 2017, edition.cnn.com/2017/01/19/americas/primates-mass-extinction/index.html. Accessed 22 Feb. 2023.
Estrada, Alejandro, et al. “Global Importance of Indigenous Peoples, Their Lands, and Knowledge Systems for Saving the World’s Primates from Extinction.” Science Advances, vol. 8, no. 32, 12 Aug. 2022, https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abn2927.
Estrada, Alejandro, et al. “Impending Extinction Crisis of the World’s Primates: Why Primates Matter.” Science Advances, vol. 3, no. 1, 18 Jan. 2017, https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.1600946.
Evensen, Dave, and Logan Weeter. “Anthropologist: Primates Face Deepening Threat of Extinction.” College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at Illinois, 29 June 2018, las.illinois.edu/news/2018-06-29/anthropologist-primates-face-deepening-threat-extinction. Accessed 22 Feb. 2023.
Mittermeier, Russell A. Primate Diversity and the Tropical Forest Case Studies from Brazil and Madagascar and the Importance of the Megadiversity Countries. Edited by E. O. Wilson and F. M. Peter. Www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, National Academy of Sciences, 1988, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK219287/. Accessed 22 Feb. 2023.
Napier, J.R., and Colin Peter Groves. “Primate | Definition, Biology, & Facts.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Edited by The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 16 Jan. 2019, www.britannica.com/animal/primate-mammal. Accessed 22 Feb. 2023.
Pennisi, Elizabeth. “People Are Hunting Primates, Bats, and Other Mammals to Extinction.” Science, 18 Oct. 2016, www.science.org/content/article/people-are-hunting-primates-bats-and-other-mammals-extinction. Accessed 22 Feb. 2023.
Ripple, Abernethy, et al. “Bushmeat Hunting and Extinction Risk to the World’s Mammals.” Royal Society Open Science, vol. 3, no. 10, 1 Oct. 2016, p. 160498, royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsos.160498, https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.160498. Accessed 22 Feb. 2023.
Setchell, Jo. “Primates Are Facing an Impending Extinction Crisis - but We Know Very Little about What Will Actually Protect Them.” The Conversation, 11 Sept. 2020, theconversation.com/primates-are-facing-an-impending-extinction-crisis-but-we-know-very-little-about-what-will-actually-protect-them-144755. Accessed 22 Feb. 2023.