‘Primates fast disappearing off the face of earth’

August 5th, 2008 - 1:01 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Aug 5 (IANS) Humankind’s closest kin in the animal world - monkeys, apes and other primates - are disappearing from the face of the earth, warns a new report. The first comprehensive review of 634 kinds of primates found almost 50 percent of them are in danger of extinction, according to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

The report by the world’s foremost primate authorities presented a chilling indictment on the state of primates. In Asia, more than 70 percent of them are already on the Red List as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered - meaning they could disappear forever in the near future.

The main threats are habitat destruction, particularly from the burning and clearing of tropical forests that also emits at least 20 percent of the global greenhouse gases causing climate change, and the hunting of primates for food and an illegal wildlife trade.

“We’ve raised concerns for years about primates being in peril, but now we have solid data to show the situation is far more severe than we imagined,” said Russell A. Mittermeier, president of Conservation International (CI) and the long time chairman of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Primate Specialist Group.

“Tropical forest destruction has always been the main cause, but now it appears that hunting is just as serious a threat in some areas, even where the habitat is still quite intact. In many places, primates are quite literally being eaten to extinction.”

The review funded by CI, the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the IUCN is part of an unprecedented examination of the state of the world’s mammals to be released at the 4th IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona in October.

With the input of hundreds of experts worldwide, the primate review provides scientific data to show the severe threats facing animals that share virtually all DNA with humans.

In both Vietnam and Cambodia, approximately 90 percent of primate species are considered at risk of extinction. Populations of gibbons, leaf monkeys, langoors and other species have dwindled due to rampant habitat loss exacerbated by hunting for food and to supply the wildlife trade in traditional Chinese medicine and pets.

“What is happening in Southeast Asia is terrifying,” said Jean-Christophe ViĆ©, Deputy Head of the IUCN Species Programme.

As our closest relatives, nonhuman primates are important to the health of their surrounding ecosystems. Through the dispersal of seeds and other interactions with their environments, primates help support a wide range of plant and animal life in the world’s tropical forests.

The report was issued by 22nd International Primatological Society Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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