Published on

Monkeys, Apes Teeter On Brink of Extinction

Emma Graham-Harrison

BEIJING - Mankind's closest relatives are teetering on the brink of their first extinctions in more than a century, hunted by humans for food and medicine and squeezed from forest homes, a report on endangered primates said on Friday.

There are just a few dozen of the most threatened gibbons and langurs left, and one colobus may already have gone the way of the dodo, warned the report on the 25 most vulnerable primates.1026 06b

"You could fit all the surviving members of these 25 species in a single football stadium -- that's how few of them remain on earth today," said Russell Mittermeier, president of U.S.-based environmental group Conservation International.

Primates include great apes such as chimpanzees and gorillas, as well as smaller cousins ranging from gibbons and lemurs to monkeys. They are sought after as food, pets, or for traditional medicines, and a few are still trapped for medical research.

Others are victims of competition for living space and resources as forests that make their habitat are chopped down.

"In Central and West Africa primate meat ... is a luxury item for the elite," Mittermeier told Reuters in a telephone interview from Cambodia. "Here it's even more for medicinal purposes, with most of the more valuable species going to markets in southeastern China."

Sumatran orangutans, one of two great apes on the list along with cross-river gorillas, are also threatened by a pet trade into Taiwan, he added.

But just a few thousand dollars could be enough to push up numbers of the most vulnerable animals, said Mittermeier, who hopes publicity from the report will bolster the flow of funds to conservation groups and income from ecotourism.

Primates survived the 20th century without losing a single known species -- in fact new ones are rapidly being found -- and should be relatively easy to protect, he added.


Get our best delivered to your inbox.

"With what we spend in one day in Iraq we could fund primate conservation for the next decade for every endangered and critically endangered and vulnerable species out there," he said.


China's environment and its animals are suffering from its rapid, dirty economic growth that may already have pushed a species of dolphin to extinction, scientists say.

But although its Hainan gibbon is thought to be the most endangered of all primates, with fewer than 20 surviving, the country's efforts to save the golden monkeys of remote southwestern Yunnan province have set a global model.

"What they have done, which I find really amazing, is they have local villagers following these groups on a daily basis," Mittermeier said. "We are looking now at applying that in Vietnam, in Madagascar and a few other places."

He said climate change -- a long-term threat to the most endangered species because it could wipe out the forests they survive in -- could also prove a "magnificent opportunity" if tropical forest protection and regrowth projects were included in U.N. programs to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

"Most of the primates are tropical forest animals, and tropical forests really have only been under serious decline in the last 50 years," Mittermeier said.

"Now we are pushing the idea that if you have so much carbon sequestered in these tropical forests don't cut them down, and compensate those countries which have the largest areas -- which also happen to be the countries that have the most primates."

For more information you can see this related story.

© 2007 Reuters

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Won't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

Share This Article

More in: