A new study has called for urgent action to protect the world’s rapidly dwindling primate populations after figures revealed that 60% of the world’s primate species are threatened with extinction. There are over 500 currently recognised primate species, with the percentage considered at risk having increased by 20% since 1996.
The study draws attention to the incredible impact that humans have placed on primate environments. Agriculture, logging, construction, resource extraction and other human activities have all placed escalating and unsustainable pressure on the animals’ habitats, and are predicted to only worsen over the next 50 years.
Unless immediate action is taken, the scientists predict numerous extinctions.
“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,” says Serge Wich, professor by special appointment of Conservation of the Great Apes at the University of Amsterdam.
Interestingly, one of the main suggestions for helping the primates is first helping humans. Most primates live in regions characterised by high levels of poverty and inequality, a fact that the study authors believe leads to greater hunting and habitat loss.
They suggest that immediate actions should be taken to improve health and access to education, develop sustainable land-use initiatives, and preserve traditional livelihoods that can contribute to food security and environmental conservation.
While it may be tragic to some, it could be easy to see the loss of these primates as unimportant to humans. However, it is important to note that the non-human primates’ biological relation to humans offers unique insights into human evolution, biology, behaviour and the threat of emerging diseases.
Additionally, these species serve as key components of tropical biodiversity and contribute to forest regeneration and ecosystem health. If they are struck by mass extinction, it is hard to predict the impact it could have on their ecosystems.
“‘If we are unable 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,” added Wich. “That will not only be a great loss from a scientific point of view, but will also have a negative influence on the ecosystems that we all rely so much upon. It is therefore important to drastically change from the business as usual scenarios to more sustainable ones.”
The threat posed to delicate ecosystems by human expansion is nothing new, but it is perhaps shocking to have such a blunt figure out there as to the damage being caused.
More than half of these species – species that are far closer to us than we may be comfortable discussing – could die unless current policy is reversed.
The study’s authors have called on authorities across the world to take action and raise awareness of the issues raised.
The article itself is published in the latest edition of the journal Science Advances.