College of LAS « Illinois

Anthropologist: Primates face deepening threat of extinction

New study suggests solutions to save apes, monkeys, and other species from growing pressure

Primates such as this northern muriqui in Brazil is critically endangered, according to authors of a new study. (Photo by Raphaella Coutinho.)
Primates such as this northern muriqui in Brazil is critically endangered, according to authors of a new study. (Photo by Raphaella Coutinho.)
As the closest biological relatives of humans, nonhuman primates such as lemurs, monkeys, and apes offer unique insights into human evolution, behavior, and the threat of emerging disease. And, according to a study by a professor emeritus of anthropology at Illinois, they are also in extreme danger of going extinct.

According to a new study published this month by Paul Garber and colleagues in PeerJ, while wild primates occur in 90 countries, 65 percent of wild primate species live in just four countries—Brazil, Madagascar, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Out of these species, 60 percent are threatened with extinction, including chimpanzees, orangutans, and Western lowland gorillas.

Some 83 percent of primate species are threatened in Indonesia, and 93 percent of species are threatened in Madagascar.

Garber and his colleagues, including Alejandro Estrada of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, have done much to bring the plight of nonhuman primates to light. They published a widely reported study about the issue in Science in 2017 that detailed how many nonprimate species could disappear in the next 25 years, and the most recent study further examines the deepening crisis.

The authors of the study blamed habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation, political instability, corruption, human population expansion, food insecurity, and unsustainable commodity international trade driven by the demands of consumer nations.

Additional pressures on primates include “bush-meat hunting and illegal trade of primates for pets, medicinal or mystical purposes,” according to the study. “Unprecedented loss” of native animal and plant communities in the countries in the study are leading to the increased threat of human and domestic-animal borne infectious diseases.

“Nonhuman primates represent our closest living relatives and they are on the verge of mass extinction,” Garber said, in a comment provided to the College of LAS. “Lemurs, monkeys, and apes are like the canary in the coal mine. If we continue to pollute, degrade, alter, and destroy natural environments, then not only will primates not survive, but in the long-term humans also will not be able to survive. The path we are taking is not sustainable.”

Deforestation, such as the type occurring in Indonesia in this photo, threatens the habitat of endangered nonhuman primates. (Photo by R. Butler.)
Deforestation, such as the type occurring in Indonesia in this photo, threatens the habitat of endangered nonhuman primates. (Photo by R. Butler.)
Additionally, using information from the World Bank and United Nations databases, wild primate habitats will continue to shrink dramatically due to agricultural expansion, researchers report. Garber predicts that by the end of the century primate habitats will contract by 78 percent in Brazil, 72 percent in Indonesia, 62 percent in Madagascar, and 32 percent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The reasons for the growing threat are numerous, but the study points out that the four nations mentioned in the study sell at least 50 percent of all exports of raw materials (for example soya and cattle, oil palm, rubber, hardwoods, fossil fuel, minerals, and gems) to China, the U.S., Canada, India, and several European countries.

Conservation efforts in each of the countries have helped, but the study warns that it may not be enough to save the primate species. For example, primates in Brazil and Madagascar have only 38 percent of their range in protected areas, and in Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo these percentages are even less—17 percent and 14 percent respectively.

“More protected areas are needed together with corridors along latitudinal and altitudinal gradients to reduce isolation, along with forest restoration projects that can be beneficial to people’s livelihoods,” the authors include in a press release about the study.

The study adds that more effective law enforcement to stop illegal hunting, illegal forest destruction, and illegal primate trade is key to solving the problem. Long-term success, the authors wrote, can perhaps be achieved by drumming up public and individual awareness of these issues to plant the seeds of long-term change, increasing food security and opportunities that are beneficial to people’s livelihoods, addressing the plight of indigenous people who have depended for thousands of years on the forest for their livelihoods, and “empowering segments of the population as citizen scientists to monitor and protect their primates.”

Logan Weeter and Dave Evensen
6/29/2018

Related Topics

  • Anthropology
  • Faculty research