Half of the World’s Primates Are Facing Extinction: So What Can We Do?

A new report indicates that over half of wild primate species are facing extinction. With nearly three quarters of the world’s primate population already under threat, is there anything we can do to save our primate cousins?

The study, which was conducted by a team of 31 leading scientists from across the globe, looked at the current data we have on the state of primates around the world and the challenges they face, utilizing data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) among other sources. While we have several smaller studies that give us a worrying insight into the decline of primates, this research aims to provide a broader snapshot–and the results aren’t encouraging.

Of the total 504 primate species that we have on record it is estimated that 60 percent are under threat of extinction, while 75 percent have populations that are declining. What’s more, the researchers believe that unless we take concerted action right now, several primate species may have as little as 25 years before extinction claims them.

To give an idea of how desperate the situation is, the Hainan gibbon, which is found in China, is now thought to have reached just 25 individuals. In fact, 22 out of the 26 primate species residing in China are now either critically endangered or under threat. The picture is similar in other areas like Indonesia and Madagascar, the latter of which is home to lemurs and shares some of the highest burden of primate population loss in the world.

Unfortunately, even when it comes to species who have received global attention and are being protected with conservation efforts, the picture is still worrying.

For example, figures show that the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan saw its habitat decline by nearly sixty percent during the period 1985 and 2007. One of the major contributors to this problem has been land clearing so that humans can use areas that were once the orangutan’s home for farming.

While we have previously learned that orangutan populations have shown some surprising resilience to this threat, they cannot survive the onslaught for much longer. Though campaigners have urged tighter controls on things like palm oil and soy production, which together with livestock farming is leading to massive deforestation and thereby driving down habitable areas for the orangutan, action has been sadly lacking. 

One thing the study does highlight that intersects with human political development is that civil unrest in the primates’ home countries may be one driving force behind this rapid descent toward extinction. In countries where food scarcity has become a problem due to civil war and internal conflict, the scientists noted people may turn to hunting primates as a source of food, and particularly as a source of rich protein.

Furthermore, in countries where poverty and a lack of job opportunities create systemic financial burdens, people may turn to hunting primates and sell them on the black market. Obviously both of these are terrible, but unless we tackle the root cause of these actions, namely extreme poverty and conflict, it’s unlikely we can create meaningful change.

So can we do anything to stop this decline? The answer is yes, and one way actually comes down to many of our buying choices. While global governments can help by utilizing international aid as well as peacemaking to ensure that nations are protecting their primates, we can use our spending power to avoid products that are going to contribute to deforestation and, as a result, species decline.

Professor Jo Setchell from Durham University, one of the researchers in this study, is quoted by the BBC as saying, “Simple examples are don’t buy tropical timber, don’t eat palm oil.” In terms of broader actions, Setchell also points out, ”we need to raise local, regional and global public awareness of the plight of the world’s primates and what this means for ecosystem health, human culture, and ultimately human survival.”

Given that primates are our closest animal cousins, they can teach us so much about ourselves. They also provide a vital link to the animal kingdom that teaches us about other species, too. As primates are often a key species in biodiversity, and are a good marker for wider habitat loss, their extinction would signal not just the loss of a profoundly important part of our heritage, but it would mean that the natural world as we know it will have changed fundamentally, and not for the better.

If you would like more tips on how you can help save species like the orangutan, Care2 has a guide. We also have information on how to choose products that do not contribute to deforestation and primate loss.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

88 comments

Cal Tasker
Cal Tasker1 years ago

Great article that highlights the knife edge that the natural world is now resting upon!

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Marie W
Marie W2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Siyus C
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Melania Padilla
Melania P2 years ago

This is just getting started; humans' effects on the planet are so profound they are long-term. The only ones that should be punished is us.

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Jennifer H
Jennifer H2 years ago

PH : "WE ARE THE GOVERNMENT!!!!!!!!!!! Look around you and see what you've allowed to happen!!!!! " Again, with the condescension.

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Patricia Harris
Patricia Harris2 years ago

We obviously care what happens to the environment and it's wildlife, but we keep insisting that only the government can stop this madness. WE ARE THE GOVERNMENT!!!!!!!!!!! Look around you, and see what you've allowed to happen!!!!! You people claim to have no hope for the future, but that's all on you!!!

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Patricia H
Patricia Harris2 years ago

Janne O, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it, and if/when you do, you'll wish you didn't.

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Celine Russo
Celine Russo2 years ago

And then I hear that they want to get more space for food for the next 9 billion people we're gonna get in the future. I say: 1) stop your horses that you don't already treat well the humans already here; 2) you already have enough land, reduce it and use it better; 3) are people really so deft that they can't understand the roles of other species???

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Patricia Harris
Patricia Harris2 years ago

We, of all people, already know what needs to be done!! LET'S JUST GET OUT THERE AND DO IT!! It should be up to US to take the necessary steps, or NOBODY will!! How many innocent lives do we have to lose before you FINALLY find the courage to do the RIGHT THING and STOP waiting on the government to do it FOR YOU??? The ugly fact is, they WON'T!!!!!! You say this will only get worse, but that's all on you naysayers!!! I don't want to hear anymore drama on this site, because that's all I'm hearing... DRAMA!!!!!! YES, all that's left on the planet WILL be gone, but that's mostly due to inaction on your part!! Feeling hopeless or outnumbered by the greedy and ignorant few, isn't going to make the problem just go away. Feeling sorry for yourselves isn't going to make any positive impact. I don't want to die just yet, so I would really appreciate it if you would just bare with me for once in your lives. I'm pretty sure there are lots of people who don't want to perish, and I'm not the kind of person who would rather let them die than to do something right! I'm willing to save the day, but I simply can't do it without your help.

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Patricia Harris
Patricia Harris2 years ago

As I've said MANY times, and I REALLY hope I don't have to say it AGAIN, it's all on YOU if things were to get much worse. Not only do corporations destroy the environment for their own personal gain, but WE, the people who could've done something about it, just allowed these evil giants get away with the destruction. The government only allows it because they don't care, but what about US?? Why are WE letting the things get taken away despite our caring concerns?? That to me, is NOT right at all!!

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