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Durham University

Research & collaboration

Urgent action needed to save primates from extinction

(19 January 2017)

Credit Andrew Walmsleyand Little Fireface Project

The majority of primate species worldwide are now threatened with extinction, according to an international group of primate conservation experts who are calling for urgent action to protect the world’s dwindling primate populations.

60 per cent of recognised primate species worldwide are now threatened with extinction, and 75 per cent have declining populations, say the experts in an article in Science Advances

Global priority

However, the scientists say there are possible solutions if governments, NGOs, businesses and organisations, researchers and the public mobilise behind the cause.

Professor Jo Setchell from the Department of Anthropology is one of the authors. She said: “This is a dire situation. We must prevent the mass extinction of our closest biological relatives. And it is possible.

“If we can reduce the unsustainable pressures we are putting on primates and their habitats, and make this a global priority, we can stop this downward spiral towards the destruction of these irreplaceable and fascinating species. I can’t imagine a world without other primates, but if we don’t act soon, we will soon be faced with one.”

Closest biological relative

Non-human primates, such as lemurs, 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.

Unsustainable pressures

The experts from the US, Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa say that the threat of extinction is the result of escalating and unsustainable pressures humans are exerting on primates and their habitats. 

These include extensive forest loss in response to global market demands through the expansion of industrial agriculture, 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. 

Immediate actions

Professor Setchell added: “This situation will only get worse unless we take immediate action.

“Most primates live in regions with high levels of human poverty and inequality, so we need to take immediate action to improve health and access to education, develop sustainable land-use initiatives, and preserve traditional livelihoods that can contribute to food security and environmental conservation.

“We know all this. It’s time to put it in place.

“If we continue to degrade habitats to the point where they are unsuitable for our primate relatives, these habitats will eventually become unsuitable for us too.”


How you can help

  • Avoid buying tropical timber or food products containing palm oil as both destroy tropical forests
  • Think before you buy because every consumer decision we make has global implications 
  • Don’t keep wild animals as pets
  • Support efforts to tackle global poverty so that people do not need to rely on hunting primates for food




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