Scientists Find That More Than Half of the World’s Primates Are at Risk of Extinction

A report on the conservation status of primates was co-authored by scientists from universities around the world and the findings are grim; over a half of nonhuman primate species are threatened with extinction. The details of the study were just published in the journal Science Advances.

Primates is a taxonomic order that includes a huge diversity of mammals, including chimpanzees, monkeys, lemurs, gorillas, and humans. Most primates are found in the tropics and all but a few species are arboreal, spending at least some of their time in trees. They’re generally known for their intelligence and some species use tools. Primates tend to play important roles in their native ecosystems; they are especially critical for the health of rainforests since they help spread tree seeds over great distances. Studying our closest relatives can also provide new insights into human behavior, disease research, and evolution.

Researchers from a number of universities, including Yale, collaborated to release a report on the global status of primates. The team was alarmed to find that over 75% of primate populations are currently in decline while 60% of species are at risk of extinction. The researchers identified a number of problems contributing to the loss of primates. One major driver of the impending extinction event is habitat loss—industrial and agricultural processes, such as oil drilling and logging, have resulted in severe habitat loss for most primate species. Another serious problem is the growing bushmeat market; poachers are actively hunting primates for their meat and other body parts. The exotic pet trade is also partially to blame; monkeys, chimpanzees, and lemurs are becoming more popular as pets. These animals make poor pets but that hasn’t stopped illegal sales. The paper outlines even more problems, including the distribution of primates in areas affected by poverty—which further incentivizes poaching.

The team’s report provides evidence of severe population declines for nearly all primate species. The researchers emphasize the need for immediate action if our planet’s primates and biodiversity are to be saved.


Estrada et al. Impending extinction crisis of the world’s primates: Why primates matter. Science Advances (2017).

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