Primate population threat up by 20% in 20 years

Close up image of an orang-utan

LJMU’s Professor Serge Wich, and other internationally recognised experts, have published a paper calling for urgent action to protect the world’s dwindling primate populations. 

Published in the journal Science Advances, the article outlines that 60% of the more than 500 currently-recognized primate species worldwide are threatened with extinction, and 75% have declining populations.

Professor Wich commented on the findings and the call to action: “In 1996 around 40% of the then recognised primate taxa were threatened. The increase to 60% at present is extremely worrying and indicates that more conservation efforts are needed to halt this increase. We need to reduce habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation as well as hunting on primates, which is a huge factor behind their decline.

"This paper provides an in depth overview of the current status of primates and shows how worrisome the current situation is. If we will not be able to reduce the impact of our activities on primates it is difficult to foresee how we will maintain this fantastic diversity of our closest relatives in the near future.

“That will not only be a great loss from a scientific point of view, but also will have a negative influence on the ecosystems that we all rely so much upon. It is therefore important that drastically change from the business as usual scenarios to more sustainable ones.” 

Professor Jo Setchell from Durham University’s Department of Anthropology, one of the other authors, said:

“This is a dire situation. We must prevent the mass extinction of our closest biological relatives. And it is possible.  

“If we can reduce the unsustainable pressures we are putting on primates and their habitats, and make this a global priority, we can stop this downward spiral towards the destruction of these irreplaceable and fascinating species. I can’t imagine a world without other primates, but if we don’t act soon, we will soon be faced with one.”

Why primate populations matter to people

If humans continue to alter and degrade habitats such that they are unsuitable for our primate relatives, then these habitats will eventually become unsuitable for ourselves.

Non-human primates (lemurs, lorises, galagos, tarsiers, monkeys, and apes) are our closest biological relatives and offer unique insights into human evolution, biology, behavior, and the threat of emerging diseases. They are an essential component of tropical biodiversity, contributing to forest regeneration and ecosystem health, and play important roles in the livelihoods, cultures and religions of many societies. 

This dire situation is the result of escalating and unsustainable pressures that humans are exerting on primates and their habitats– mainly extensive forest loss in response to global market demands through the expansion of industrial agriculture, and large-scale cattle ranching, logging, oil and gas drilling, mining, dam building, and the construction of new road networks for resource extraction in primate range countries.

The accelerated growth of such pressures over the next 50 years predicts this situation will only worsen and result in numerous primate extinctions unless immediate global action is taken.

Given that most primates live in regions characterised by high levels of human poverty and inequality, immediate actions should be aimed at improving health and access to education, developing sustainable land-use initiatives, and preserving traditional livelihoods that can contribute to food security and environmental conservation. These actions can help to reduce hunting and habitat loss.

Consumer nations must make conservation and sustainability global priorities 

The authors call on governmental officials, scientists, international organizations, NGOs, the business community, and concerned citizens to mobilise and raise awareness of the plight of the world’s primates and the costs of their loss to ecosystem health, human culture, and, ultimately, human survival. This mobilisation is a social and ecological imperative.  

The article was co-authored by 31 internationally recognised experts on primate conservation from the U.S, Europe, including Liverpool John Moores University, Durham University and Oxford Brookes from the UK), Asia, Latin America, and Africa.


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