Half of all primates threatened with extinction

Nearly half the primate species are in danger of becoming extinct from destruction of tropical forests, illegal wildlife trade and commercial bush-meat hunting, conservationists said today.

“Mankind’s closest living relatives–the world’s apes, monkeys, lemurs and other primates–are on the brink of extinction and in need of urgent conservation measures,” the conservationists said in a news statement about the release of the report Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, 2008-2010.

Scroll to the bottom of this blog entry to see illustrations of all 25 of the world’s most endangered primates.


Siau Island tarsier (Tarsius tumpara), Indonesia (Siau Island). This newly described species is Critically Endangered and faces an imminent threat of extinction, the Primates in Peril report notes. Specific threats include a very small geographic range, an even smaller area of occupancy, a high density of humans that habitually hunt and eat tarsiers for snack food, and no protected areas within its range.

Photo © Geoff Deehan

The latest assessment that one in two of the world’s primates is threatened with extinction reflects a sharp deterioration since National Geographic News reported in 2002 that one in every three of the world’s apes, monkeys, lemurs, and other primates was endangered with extinction. Read the 2002 story Extinction Risk for 1 in 3 Primates, Study Says. View a 2007 photo gallery of the  25 Most Endangered Primates Named

The 2008-2010 report lists five primate species from Madagascar, six from continental Africa, 11 from Asia, and three from Central and South America, “all of which are the most in need of urgent conservation action.”


Compiled by 85 experts from across the world–from the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC) and the International Primatological Society (IPS), in collaboration with Conservation International (CI)–the report was made public today at an event at Bristol Zoo Gardens in the United Kingdom.

“From the Atlantic Forest of Brazil to the monsoon slopes of Madagascar, from the mountains of southwest China to the islands of Mentawai, these primates are caught between fading hope and hard oblivion,” says the IUCN’s Primate Specialist Group on its Web site. “And if through our failure of action they should cease to exist, we will have lost our nearest companions–and a part of ourselves–from what wilderness remains in the world.”

“Conservationists want to highlight the plight of species such as the golden headed langur (Trachypithecus p. poliocephalus), which is found only on the island of Cat Ba in the Gulf of Tonkin, northeastern Vietnam, where just 60 to 70 individuals remain,” the organizers of the event said in today’s news statement.

“Similarly, there are thought to be less than 100 individual northern sportive lemurs (Lepilemur septentrionalis) left in Madagascar, and around just 110 eastern black crested gibbons (Nomascus nasutus) in northeastern Vietnam.”


Greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus), Madagascar. The largest of Madagascar’s bamboo-eating lemurs and the most critically endangered lemur, Prolemur simus was once widespread throughout the island. Today, the total wild population is estimated not to exceed 100-160 individuals. The greater bamboo lemur is threatened by slash-and-burn agriculture, mining, illegal logging, the cutting of bamboo, and hunting with slingshots, according to the Primates in Peril report.

© CIphoto by Haroldo Castro

The list of the 25 most endangered primates was drawn up by primatologists working in the field who have first-hand knowledge of the causes of threats to primates, according to the report.

One of the editors of the report is Christoph Schwitzer, head of research at the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation (BCSF), a sister organisation of Bristol Zoo Gardens.

Schwitzer, who is also an adviser on Madagascan primates for the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group, contributed the chapter on the Endangered Sclater’s lemur (also called the blue-eyed black lemur).

“This report makes for very alarming reading and it underlines the extent of the danger facing many of the world’s primates. We hope it will be effective in drawing attention to the plight of each of the 25 species included. Support and action to help save these species is vital if we are to avoid losing these wonderful animals forever,” Schwitzer said.


Variegated spider monkey (Ateles hybridus), Colombia and Venezuela. The large size, slow reproductive rate (single offspring at 3-4 year intervals) and generally low population densities of spider monkeys make them especially vulnerable to hunting, the Primates in Peril report states.

Photo © Andres Link

Almost half (48 percent) of the world’s 634 primate species are classified as threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, according to the report.

“The main threats are habitat destruction, particularly from the burning and clearing of tropical forests (which results in the release of around 16 percent of the global greenhouse gases causing climate change), the hunting of primates for food, and the illegal wildlife trade.”


Gray-headed lemur (Eulemur cinereiceps), Madagascar. Deforestation and hunting present the greatest threats to the survival of this species, says the Primates in Peril assessment.

© CI/photo by Russell A. Mittermeier

Russell Mittermeier, chair of the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group and president of Conservation International, said: “The results from the most recent IUCN assessment of the world’s mammals indicate that the primates are among the most endangered vertebrate groups.

“The purpose of our Top 25 list is to highlight those that are most at risk, to attract the attention of the public, to stimulate national governments to do more, and especially to find the resources to implement desperately needed conservation measures.

“In particular, we want to encourage governments to commit to desperately needed biodiversity conservation measures when they gather in Japan in October. We have the resources to address this crisis, but so far, we have failed to act. We have chosen Bristol Zoo Gardens to launch this year’s list, the fifth since 2001, because of the great leadership that this institution has taken in primate conservation in some of the world’s highest priority regions,” Mittermeier said.


Silky sifaka (Propithecus candidus), Madagascar. This is one of the rarest and most critically endangered lemurs, Primates in Peril says. Global population size is between 100 and 1,000. Silky sifakas are hunted throughout their range as there is no local taboo against eating them. Habitat disturbance, such as slash-and-burn agriculture, logging of precious woods (for example, rosewood) and fuel wood, also occurs in and adjacent to the protected areas where they are found, the report says.

© CI/photo by Russell A. Mittermeier

“This research is a good example of the growing importance of collaboration between the international conservation, research and zoo communities in the protection of species and habitats,” said BCSF’s Christoph Schwitzer. “At Bristol Zoo Gardens, we will continue our conservation and research with the aim of increasing the effectiveness of the conservation activities, as well as increasing our understanding of these, and other, critically endangered species.”

Some species have recovered

It’s not all gloomy news for the world’s primates. The conservationists point to the success in helping targeted species recover.

“In Brazil, the black lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysopygus) was down listed to Endangered from Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, as was the golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) in 2003, as a result of three decades of conservation efforts involving numerous institutions, many of which were zoos, the conservationsts said.

“Populations of both animals are now well-protected but remain very small, indicating an urgent need for reforestation to provide new habitat for their long-term survival.”

The 25 Most Endangered Primates

Cross River gorilla.jpg

Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli), found in Cameroon and Nigeria. © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Rodon dwarf galago.jpg

Rodon dwarf galago (Galagoides rondoensis), Tanzania. © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Sumatran orangutan .jpg

Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii), Indonesia (Sumatra). © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Variegated spider monkey.jpg

Variegated spider monkey (Ateles hybridus), Colombia and Venezuela. © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Siau Island tarsier.jpg

Siau Island tarsier (Tarsius tumpara), Indonesia (Siau Island). © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Tana River red colobus (Procolobus rufomitratus).jpg

Tana River red colobus (Procolobus rufomitratus). Kenya © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Western purple-faced langur (Semnopithecus vetulus nestor).jpg

Western purple-faced langur (Semnopithecus vetulus nestor), Sri Lanka. © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Grey-shanked douc (Pygathrix cinerea).jpg

Grey-shanked douc (Pygathrix cinerea), Vietnam. © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Kipunji (Rungwecebus kipunji).jpg

Kipunji (Rungwecebus kipunji) Tanzania. © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Roloway monkey (Cercopithecus diana roloway).jpg

Roloway monkey (Cercopithecus diana roloway), Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Sclater's lemur (Eulemur flavifrons).jpg

Sclater’s lemur (Eulemur flavifrons), Madagascar. © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Cao Vit or eastern black crested gibbon (Nomascus nasutus).jpg

Cao Vit or eastern black crested gibbon (Nomascus nasutus), China and Vietnam. © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Tonkin snub-nosed monkey (Phinopithecus avunculus).jpg

Tonkin snub-nosed monkey (Phinopithecus avunculus), Vietnam. © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus).jpg

Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus), Indonesia (Java). © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Niger Delta red colobus (Procolobus epieni).jpg

Niger Delta red colobus (Procolobus epieni), Nigeria. © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus).jpg

Cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus), Colombia. © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Pig-tailed langur (Simias concolor).jpg

Pig-tailed langur (Simias concolor), Indonesia (Mentawai Island). © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Peruvian yellow-tailed woolly monkey (Oreonax flavicauda).jpg

Peruvian yellow-tailed woolly monkey (Oreonax flavicauda), Peru. © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Northern sportive lemur (Lepilemur septentrionalis).jpg

Northern sportive lemur (Lepilemur septentrionalis), Madagascar. © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Western hoolock gibbon (Hoolock hoolock).jpg

Western hoolock gibbon (Hoolock hoolock), Bangladesh. © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Silky sifaka (Propithecus candidus).jpg

Silky sifaka (Propithecus candidus), Madagascar. © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Golden-headed or Cat Ba Langur (Trachypithecus p. poliocephalus).jpg

Golden-headed or Cat Ba Langur (Trachypithecus p. poliocephalus), Vietnam. © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Delacour's langur (Trachypithecus delacouri).jpg

Delacour’s langur (Trachypithecus delacouri), Vietnam. © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash


Gray-headed lemur (Eulemur cinereiceps).jpg

Gray-headed lemur (Eulemur cinereiceps), Madagascar. © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash

Greater Bamboo Lemur (Prolemur simus).jpg

Greater Bamboo Lemur (Prolemur simus), Madagascar. © CI/Illustration by Stephen D. Nash



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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn