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Scientists Desperate to Protect World's 25 Most Endangered Primates

LONDON, UK, February 18, 2010 (ENS) – Nearly half the world’s 634 primate species – gorillas, orangutans, monkeys, lemurs, gibbons and other primates – now are in danger of becoming extinct due to the destruction of tropical forests, illegal wildlife trade and commercial bushmeat hunting.

Mother and baby Sumatran orangutans in Aceh, Indonesia (Photo by Seb Ruiz)

A report listing the 25 most endangered primates was launched at Bristol Zoo Gardens today, showing that five primate species from Madagascar, six from Africa, 11 from Asia, and three from Central and South America are all in need of the most urgent conservation action.

The report, “Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, 2008-2010″ has been compiled by the Primate Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, Species Survival Commission, SSC, and the International Primatological Society, in collaboration with the nonprofit Conservation International.

“The results from the most recent IUCN assessment of the world’s mammals indicate that the primates are among the most endangered vertebrate groups,” said co-editor Dr. Russell Mittermeier, chair of the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group and president of Conservation International.

“The purpose of our Top 25 list is to highlight those that are most at risk, to attract the attention of the public, to stimulate national governments to do more, and especially to find the resources to implement desperately needed conservation measures,” Dr. Mittermeier said. “We have the resources to address this crisis, but so far, we have failed to act.”

Conservationists want to highlight the plight of primate species in northeastern Vietnam such as the last remaining 110 eastern black crested gibbons and the golden headed langurs found only on the island of Cat Ba in the Gulf of Tonkin, where just 60 to 70 individuals survive.

The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates: 2008-2010, by region:

    Madagascar

    • Greater Bamboo Lemur Prolemur simus
    • Gray-headed Lemur Eulemur cinereiceps
    • Sclater’s Black Lemur, Blue-Eyed Black Lemur Eulemur flavifrons
    • Northern sportive lemur Lepilemur septentrionalis
    • Silky Sifaka Propithecus candidus

    Africa

    • Rondo Dwarf Galago Galagoides rondoensis
    • Roloway Guenon Cercopithecus diana roloway
    • Tana River Red Colobus Procolobus rufomitratus
    • Niger Delta Red Colobus Monkey Procolobus epieni
    • Kipunji Rungwecebus kipunji
    • Cross River Gorilla Gorilla gorilla diehli

    Asia

    • Siau Island Tarsier Tarsius tumpara
    • Javan Slow Loris Nycticebus javanicus
    • Simakobu or Pig-Tailed Snub-Nose Langur Simias concolor
    • Delacour’s Langur Trachypithecus delacouri
    • Golden-headed Langur or Cat Ba Langur Trachypithecus p. poliocephalus
    • Western Purple-faced Langur Trachypithecus (Semnopithecus) vetulus nestor
    • Grey-shanked Douc Monkey Pygathrix cinerea
    • Tonkin Snub-nosed Monkey Rhinopithecus avunculus
    • Eastern Black Crested Gibbon Nomascus nasutus
    • Western Hoolock Gibbon Hoolock hoolock
    • Sumatran Orangutan Pongo abelii

    Central and South America

    • Cotton-top Tamarin Saguinus oedipus
    • Variegated or Brown Spider Monkey Ateles hybridus
    • Peruvian Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey Oreonax flavicauda

    “We have chosen Bristol Zoo Gardens to launch this year’s list, the fifth since 2001, because of the great leadership that this institution has taken in primate conservation in some of the world’s highest priority regions,” said Dr. Mittermeier.

    Cotton-top tamarin (Photo © Russell Mittermeier)

    The list was drawn up by primatologists working in the field who have first-hand knowledge of the causes of threats to these primates.

    One of the report’s editors, Dr. Christoph Schwitzer, is head of research at the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation, a sister organization of Bristol Zoo Gardens.

    Dr. Schwitzer, who is also an adviser on Madagascan primates for the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group, contributed the chapter on the Endangered Sclater’s lemur, also called the blue-eyed black lemur.

    “This report makes for very alarming reading and it underlines the extent of the danger facing many of the world’s primates,” Dr. Schwitzer said. “We hope it will be effective in drawing attention to the plight of each of the 25 species included. Support and action to help save these species is vital if we are to avoid losing these wonderful animals forever.”

    The primate experts hope to encourage governments to commit to funding desperately needed biodiversity conservation measures when they gather in Nagoya, Japan in October for the Tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

    Almost half, 48 percent, of the world’s 634 primate species are classified as threatened with extinction on the authoritative IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

    The main threats are the hunting of primates for food and the illegal wildlife trade, as well as habitat destruction, particularly from the burning and clearing of tropical forests, which results in the release of around 16 percent of the global greenhouse gases causing climate change.

    Golden lion tamarin at the UK’s Marwell Zoo (Photo by Martyn Negaro)

    Still, conservationists point to some successes in helping targeted species recover.

    In Brazil, the black lion tamarin, Leontopithecus chrysopygus, was downlisted to Endangered from Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, as was the golden lion tamarin, Leontopithecus rosalia, in 2003, as a result of three decades of conservation efforts involving numerous institutions, many of which were zoos.

    Populations of both animals are now well-protected but remain very small, indicating an urgent need for reforestation to provide new habitat for their long-term survival.

    Researchers still are discovering new primate species previously unknown to science.

    Five of the world’s 25 most endangered primates on this year’s list are species only recently described: the Rondo dwarf galago by Paul Honess in 1997; the grey-shanked douc by Tilo Nadler in 1997; the Niger Delta red colobus by Peter Grubb and C. Bruce Powell in 1999;
    the kipunji by Carolyn Ehardt and colleagues in 2005; and the Siau Island tarsier first described by Myron Shekelle and colleagues in 2008.

    Eighty-six primate species and subspecies have been described since 1990. The report states that many of these new primates have very restricted distributions, which is one of the reasons they were not discovered sooner, and some are known only from their type localities.

    With more information becoming available, the editors predict that many of these newly described species will be future candidates for the most endangered list.

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