We haven’t lost any primate species yet during this century, but that might be about to change. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has issued a new report which shows 25 species of monkeys, langurs, lemurs, and gorillas are on the brink of extinction due to human activities. These human activities include burning and clearing of tropical forests, illegal wildlife trade (the “hey, I want a pet monkey” crowd, and also, the “maybe this monkey’s blood will make penis work again crowd,” plus those who may be in both), and hunting. (Some people eat monkeys. Probably no one you know. But maybe someone who knows someone you know.)
Lemurs — which are so incredibly cute it’s almost criminal — are the most at risk. There are only 19 remaining northern sportive lemurs left. But even though the lemur’s sort of got it the worst here, all the primates are in serious danger. Half of the world’s 633 types of primates are endangered. And we don’t want to just keep these animals around so we can look at them and say, “Oh, good. You’re still alive.” Primates are important parts of the ecosystem. They spread seeds, for starters. They give tourists something to look at, which means more income for poor rural areas where these primates live. And someday, perhaps they will evolve into a more enlightened human race! That’s how evolution works, right?
It’s not all gloom and doom in the primate kingdom. Conservation efforts mean that at least two species, the lion-tailed macaque in India and the greater bamboo lemur in Madagascar, and coming back from the brink. This is good. Let’s hope someday this is true of all the primate species, and we can have a big dance, and Jane Goodall can D.J.
Get Grist in your inbox