Can we turn the tide for orangutans in 2016?

Assisting conservationists in combating primate extinction threats

Sumatran Orangutan

Primatologists from across the world, including LJMU’s Professor Serge Wich, have been using their research from working in the field and first-hand knowledge of the causes of threats to primates to compile a list of the world’s most endangered species and look at solutions to save them. 

Professor Serge Wich has conducted research on the Sumatran orangutan for the past two decades and his work contributes extensively to the assessment for this species.  The list, which includes the Sumatran orangutan, has been drawn up by primatologists who have first-hand knowledge of the causes of threats to primates, includes five primate species from Madagascar, five from Africa, 10 from Asia, and five from Central and South America, all of which are in need of most urgent conservation action.

Professor Serge Wich commented: 

"It is very worrying that more than half of the species on the IUCN redlist are threatened with extinction. This is not only of concern because of the great loss of primate species that might occur, but also because of the impact it would have for understanding our own past through studying our closest relatives. At the same time, losing these species will likely have an impact on our future because primates play an important role in dispersing seeds of tropical forest trees and thus in maintaining the diversity and structure of these forests. 

"Changes in seed dispersal can lead to unknown changes in forest structure and potentially less carbon storage in those forests which is exactly the opposite of what we should be aiming for given the need to curb climate change. So preserving primates is as much in their interest as it is in ours.

"It is also going to be a very important year for orangutans in 2016 because it will be the start of working on the new Indonesian conservation strategy."

The report, which is updated every two years, highlights the plight of twenty five species including the Hainan gibbon (Nomascus hainanus), of which there are thought to be just 25 individuals left in the wild, and the Northern sportive lemurs (Lepilemur septentrionalis) of which just around 50 remain in their native Madagascar. 

The main threats to primates are habitat destruction, particularly from the burning and clearing of tropical forests – which results in the release of greenhouse gases causing climate change – the hunting of primates for food, and the illegal wildlife trade.

"This research highlights the extent of the danger facing many of the world’s primates," says Dr Christoph Schwitzer, Director of Conservation at Bristol Zoological Society and a world-leading primatologist. "We hope it will focus people’s attention on these lesser known primate species, some of which most people will probably have never heard of, such as the Lavasoa Mountains dwarf lemur from Madagascar - a species only discovered two years ago - or the Roloway monkey from Ghana and Ivory Coast, which we believe is on the very verge of extinction.

Madagascar and Vietnam both have large numbers of highly threatened primate species. In Africa, the genus of the red colobus monkeys is under particular threat, as are some of the howler monkeys and spider monkeys of South America. All of these species are relatively large and conspicuous, making them prime targets for bushmeat hunting.

The latest edition of ‘Primates in Peril: The world’s 25 most endangered primates’ has been compiled by the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC), Bristol Zoological Society, the International Primatological Society (IPS), and Conservation International (CI), new additions to the list include Philippine tarsier (Tarsius syrichta) and Lavasoa Mountains dwarf lemur (Cheirogaleus lavasoensis), both of which are threatened by habitat loss. 


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