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Planet Earth

New Threat to Primates Worldwide: Being "Eaten Into Extinction"

80beatsBy Eliza StricklandAugust 5, 2008 10:33 PM

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An ambitious study of all the primates on planet Earth has found that almost half of all species are threatened by extinction because of habitat loss and poaching.

The latest Red List of Threatened Species, drawn up by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), says that almost 50 per cent of the world's 634 types of primate may disappear forever [Telegraph].

The findings highlight the multiplying threats facing primates throughout Africa, Asia, and South America, says IUCN official Russell Mittermeier:

"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" [Bloomberg].

The study results were announced at the current International Primatological Society meeting. Researchers say the situation is worst in Cambodia and Vietnam, where almost 90 percent of monkeys are considered threatened or endangered. Researchers say the gibbons, leaf monkeys, and langurs that live in those countries are easy targets for hunters because they're medium-sized, noisy, and active in the daytime. IUCN official Jean-Christophe Vie says that problems begin when forests start being cleared, enabling hunters to move in and take out the monkeys. "It's cheaper to go into the forest and kill a monkey than to raise a chicken" [New Scientist]. Monkeys are also hunted in Southeast Asia for pets and for ingredients for Chinese medicine. However, there are several bright spots. The survey found that a 30-year effort to protect the black lion tamarin and the golden lion tamarin in Brazil have resulted in both species becoming less endangered. And a separate survey announced at the conference brought good news about western lowland gorillas; researchers say they now estimate that 125,000 gorillas are living in two remote regions of the Republic of Congo, many more than previously thought.

"These figures show that northern Republic of Congo contains the mother lode of gorillas," said Steven E. Sanderson, [Wildlife Conservation Society] president and CEO. "It also shows that conservation in the Republic of Congo is working" [LiveScience].

For info on on how endangered animals can end up on dinner plates in the United States, read the DISCOVER article, "Extinction: It's What's for Dinner."

Image: flickr/karynsig

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