Impending extinction crisis of the world’s primates: why primates matter

20 January 2017

An article coauthored by 31 internationally recognized experts on primate conservation from the U.S., Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa, and recently published in the journal Science Advances calls for urgent action to protect the world’s dwindling primate populations.

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. Alarmingly, 60% of the more than 500 currently-recognized primate species worldwide are threatened with extinction, and 75% have declining populations.

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 characterized 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. 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 mobilize 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 mobilization is a social and ecological imperative. 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. 

Read full article ►Estrada et al. Impending exctinction Sci Adv. 2017.

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