Primate Study Finds It's 'Worse Than We Thought'

75% are in decline, 60% at risk of extinction
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 20, 2017 7:13 AM CST
'Major Extinction Event' Could Hit Primates
There's not much reason to smile, Tsunami. The 11-year-old female Sumatran Orangutan lives at the National Zoo Ape Center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.   (AP Photo/Joshua Paul, File)

"It's worse than we thought 10 years ago," a researcher says following a "landmark" study on the world's primates that found many could go extinct in the next 50 years. Primatologists studied every primate species—all 504 of them—and found 75% are in decline, while about 60% are threatened with extinction, including every species of ape and 87% of lemurs, reports the New York Times. What's imperiling them: hunting (for food and body parts), mining (the search for coltan, an ore used in cellphones, is one factor), and deforestation (our appetite for palm oil is particularly troublesome). The Guardian reports deforestation is the biggest factor of the three: From 1990 to 2010, 580,000 square miles of primate habitats—an area more than twice the size of Texas—was destroyed due to agricultural growth.

"The scale of this is massive," a researcher tells the Guardian, adding he was "horrified" by the report. "The world will soon be facing a major extinction event if effective action is not implemented immediately," reads the study, published Wednesday in Science Advances. New Scientist suggests conservation efforts could zero in on four key countries, which host two-thirds of our primate species: Brazil, Indonesia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Madagascar, which is down to the last 2,000 of its famed ring-tailed lemurs. Building fish farms in areas where hunting is common and protecting primate habitats might safeguard primates' roles in the ecosystem, including moving pollen from tree to tree and spreading seeds through their dung, researchers say. This could be our "one last opportunity." (Extinct animals can be found in an "ark" in a freezer.)

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