Primates in peril: 48% risk extinction

The world's apes and monkeys are disappearing faster than ever. According to a report issued this week at the 22nd International Primatological Society Congress, 48% of primate species are currently at risk of extinction.

Out of the 634 known primate species and subspecies, 11% are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List, 22% are endangered, and 15% are considered vulnerable. (A few of the species listed as "critically endangered" have not been seen in decades, and may actually be extinct.)

This massive new study, funded by Conservation International and other groups, shows that primates are even more at risk than previously believed. A survey last October found that approximately one in three primate species (29%) risked extinction. "Now we have solid data to show that the situation is far more severe than we imagined," said Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and chairman of the IUCN Species Survival Commission's Primate Specialist Group.

Threats to primate species include habitat loss, global warming, and hunting for the bushmeat trade and so-called traditional medicine.

The news isn't all dire. For example, golden lion tamarins and black lion tamarins were once almost extinct in the wild, but successful repopulations efforts have resulted in the two species being upgraded from critically endangered to just plain-old endangered. But these two species remain a rare success story.

Meanwhile, a census by the Wildlife Conservation Society has found that western lowland gorillas may be doing quite a bit better than previously believed. While the news has yet to be verified, the WCS reports that gorilla numbers in the Republic of Congo could be twice as high as previously thought. Earlier estimates placed the entire western lowland gorilla population at less than 100,000 across seven African countries; this new count found 125,000 gorillas in Congo alone.

Western lowland gorillas still face threats from habitat destruction, hunting and the Ebola virus, but this news could at least be a glimmer of hope amidst the otherwise depressing worldwide primate situation.