World’s experts on primate conservation call for urgent action to battle impending extinction crisis

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Eastern hoolock gibbon

A recently published article co-authored by 31 internationally recognised experts on primate conservation, including four academics from three UK universities (Oxford Brookes University, Durham University and Liverpool John Moores University), has called for urgent action to protect the world’s dwindling primate populations.

The study, entitled Impending extinction crisis of the world’s primates: why primates matter, is the most comprehensive review of the extinction crisis facing primates to date. The study was published in Science Advances on 18 January 2017 and can be read in full online.

Non-human primates (lemurs, lorises, galagos, tarsiers, monkeys and apes) are our closest biological relatives and offer unique insights into human evolution, biology, behaviour and the threat of emerging diseases. They are an essential component of tropical biodiversity, contributing to forest regeneration and ecosystem health, and play important roles in the livelihoods, cultures and religions of many societies.

Primates, be they large and charismatic or small and nocturnal, are vital parts of the ecosystem. To this end, for the last 16 years, over 450 students have worked to conserve primates through the MSc and PhD in Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes University.

Anna Nekaris, Professor in Anthropology, Oxford Brookes University

Professor Anna Nekaris, Professor in Anthropology at Oxford Brookes University and one of the co-authors of the article said: “The impending extinction of our closest relatives should not be taken lightly. Primates, be they large and charismatic or small and nocturnal, are vital parts of the ecosystem. To this end, for the last 16 years, over 450 students have worked to conserve primates through the MSc and PhD in Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes University. 

“This report highlights why the work of this next generation of researchers is so vital.”

The article revealed that an alarming 60 per cent of the more than 500 currently recognised primate species worldwide are threatened with extinction, and 75 per cent have declining populations. It has been found that is the result of escalating and unsustainable pressures that humans are exerting on primates and their habitats – mainly extensive forest loss in response to global market demands through the expansion of industrial agriculture, and large-scale cattle ranching, logging, oil and gas drilling, mining, dam building, and the construction of new road networks for resource extraction in primate range countries. The accelerated growth of such pressures over the next 50 years predicts this situation will only worsen and result in numerous primate extinctions unless, experts advise, immediate global action is taken.

Canopy mist central Amazonia“With increasing globalisation and industrialisation, primates and other wildlife face a multitude of challenges, impeding their very survival”, said Vincent Nijman, Professor in Anthropology at Oxford Brookes University and co-author of the paper.

“It’s clear to me that it’s up to us to resolve this for the benefit of both primates and humans. This study is the first attempt to summarise those challenges and provide real world solutions.”

Given that most primates live in regions characterised by high levels of human poverty and inequality, the authors say that immediate actions should be aimed at improving health and access to education, developing sustainable land-use initiatives, and preserving traditional livelihoods that can contribute to food security and environmental conservation. 

The authors call on governmental officials, scientists, international organizations, NGOs, the business community, and concerned citizens to mobilize and raise awareness of the plight of the world’s primates and the costs of their loss to ecosystem health, human culture, and, ultimately, human survival. 

Nida Al-Fulaij, Grants Manager at People’s Trust for Endangered Species, which has provided funding for Professor Nekaris’ research, added: “It is important to support scientific research like this study. We must act sooner rather than later to save the world’s primates, and the study’s findings will enable conservationists to develop an informed plan of action to try and address some of the threats to their existence.”