Primate Conservation

Think about the fact that most political decisions don't last too long. Political systems come and go, even horrible wars' effects are gone in a few generations, but if you don't conserve, the effects will last forever. This is probably the biggest and most rapid phase of extinction that has ever seen before. As in, to what we're doing now, the dinosaurs all being wiped out was nothing! And it's different because it's not due to natural forces. We're changing the environment so quickly and so drastically that things can't adapt quickly enough to it.

The Current Status of Primate Conservation

A third to a half of all primate species are endangered because of overexploitation and habitat destruction. As an estimate, it's maybe at 42% right now, but it'll go up in the future. It will probably be the next generation or two who will decide how many primate will survive.

Basic Factors Affecting Primate Conservation

(inherent facts about primates which make them difficult to conserve)

Geographic distribution: Primates are just tropical animals, found mostly in the tropics of the southern hemisphere. This means that primates live mainly in third-world countries, so economics is a factor 'cause home countries are poor and have a lot of demands on their resources.

"All discussion about Africa must begin and end with a recognition, however grim, of the continent's underdevelopment and poverty."

--John Bonner, 1993

Low reproductive potential: Take for example the chimp; they only produce a baby every 5-6 years, and there's a very high infant mortality- 50% die in their first two years. This means that populations can't bounce back very quickly. Also, they live in low population densities, so to save a large population you need a lot of ground!

Threats to Primate Populations

(external factors affecting primate conservation)

Overharvesting: Some older forms include hunting for food, for example bonobos and cebids; Hunting for trophies or ornaments, like when black and white colobus are made into rugs for tourists; And hunting of pest species such as when farmers don't like troops of monkeys harvesting their crops so they shoot them. Baboons and macaques especially like to raid crops. Primates are also affected by indirect hunting; they get caught in snares set for other species like deer or whatever.
Primates are also 'harvested' by live capture- especially for biomedical research. Primates are so closely related to humans, and have much the same diseases, that they make good models for medical research. For example, the only non-human primate who can support the AIDS virus is the chimp so they're being used for AIDS research. You have heard of blood types Rh positive and Rh negative, right? Well the "rh" stands for Rhesus monkeys in which blood types were first discovered. Most biomedical research is done on live caught primates, instead of captive-bred ones. Primates are also caught live for the pet trade; the cebus monkey or organ-grinder monkey is popular, as well as squirrel monkeys. Recently young apes have begun to be hot pet items especially in Asia, where people keep orangutans or gibbons or even bonobos as exotic pets (the babies, anyway). In 1991, in Taiwan there were 283 orangutans registered as pets. This is just the registered ones, so the real number is probably more like 700-800. The total orangutan population in Borneo is only about 16,000. So, the number as pets in Taiwan is like 5% of total population in Borneo! Also, you must remember that in order to capture an infant, you've got to kill the mom, and then in transport and holding, about 9 out of 10 die. So, for every baby that ends up being a pet another 9 to 10 have probably died along the way.
For the most part, overharvesting targets only 1 or 2 specific species. This is in contrast to:

Habitat destruction: This is much less selective in that it affects several species in a single area. It is also irreversible; you can't captive breed rainforests. If you deplete an animal's population (without making them extinct), they can recover but if their habitat is gone they can't ever recover. Habitat destruction is more difficult to combat than overharvesting, because humans don't NEED pets but they do need more space so they intrude on the monkeys' habitats.
Habitat destruction is divided into two types; small-scale and large-scale. Small-scale woodcutting is for example, hand logging; someone finds a nice mahogany tree and goes in and cuts it up. It would also include cutting wood for firewood. Most of the world's population still uses wood for heat and cooking, and as the population grows, there is more need for wood. Also as populations grow, they clear more and more for agriculture. You may have heard of slash and burn agriculture- People will clear out a whole forest, burn it off, plant a crop, get 1-2 years and then the soil will get depleted so they move on and cut some more. Before, this practice was ok because there was so little going on that the forest could grow back up but now it's getting cleared too fast for the forest to catch up.
Large-scale destruction is like commercial logging- clearing out complete forests. A lot of the forests go to make paper. Much of the SE Asian rainforests are used to supply paper for Japan. Also, cattle ranching is big in S America to produce beef for export for places like Macdonalds. Oil refineries in Asia also take up space once covered in rainforests. This kind of behavior is irreversible because rainforests can't just grow back like a field. The soil is really thin and doesn't have much nutrients. Rainforests have a complex ecosystem in which the nutrients are very efficiently recycled. However, when the trees are all cut down, the rain washes the soil with all the nutrients away and it all ends up in rivers where it just becomes pollutants. So, when a large area is cut and then left it just becomes poison to the surrounding area.
So now we know that some destruction is from multinational corporations and some is from local people needing firewood or food. You might think that the damage from commercial use is worse, that it's all the big companies who have no heart who are the bad guys. In actuality, in Africa for example, 1/3 of the forest clearing is from corporations but 2/3 is from the local people, mostly for agriculture. It's really the exponentially expanding human race that is making life so difficult for the rainforests.

Regional Surveys

Neotropics: Contains 6 genera and 64 species, with 27 of those species endangered. The most highly endangered is the muriqui or woolly spider monkey. They have the misfortune to live in the Atlantic rainforest of E Brazil which is really heavily settled. Only 1-5% of this rainforest still exists. Also, the uakari is very endangered. They used to live in the Amazon basin.

Madagascar: Contains 13 genera and 28 species, with all species endangered. In fact, 14 lemurs are already extinct. (They disappeared within the last 1000 years or so, basically since humans first populated the place.) One was huge, like gorilla-sized, it just hung around in trees like a koala. But now it's gone. Madagascar is improportionally important for its acreage because its species don't occur anywhere else in the world.

Africa: Contains15 genera and 55 species, with 14 of these species endangered. The most critical is the gorilla. You might think of them as living in very remote areas far away from people, but it's just a small mountain range which hasn't been cleared because it's too steep. The fields and clearings come right up to base of mountains where the gorillas live.

Asia: S and SE Asia, more specifically. Contains 9 to 16 genera and 50 to 56 species, with 16 species considered endangered. The most critical is rhinopithecus- the golden monkey. Also endangered are the orangutan and all 9 species of the gibbon- in other words, all the Asian apes.

Potential Solutions Over-exploitation: This is a little more fixable, because there's no real reason why an animal needs to be exploited. What has had an effect is CITES, an international agreement began in 70's and signed by most countries which limits trade in endangered species. It has been effective in limiting both the pet trade and biomedical research. For research, they can do captive breeding instead of live capture. Since CITES, there is much less wild capture. The pet trade has been curtailed, but much is still illegal. A problem is, what do you do when you seize illegal animals? Zoos often buy them with the justification that otherwise they'll die since they've already been caught, but while this saves the individuals, it encourages people to go and deplete the species more. There are also some rehabilitation centers, especially for apes like the orangutan and chimps. Habitat destruction: This problem is a lot more difficult to solve. A crucial part of the solution is education, especially of young people but also of adults. In a lot of cases it doesn't make any economic sense to destroy- these habitats are more valuable in the long term to conserve than to destroy but in short term they give an immediate relief. Pretty much the only hope at this point is reserve systems- we need big chunks of land set aside. But the countries who have the land to preserve are all pretty poor. What you also may not realize is that developing countries set aside more of their land than first world countries. You can't just sit on your high horse and condemn all those darn countries for being greedy and killing the world's rainforests. Indonesia, for example, has between 12 and 25% of its lands protected.

Some other countries:
KenyaTanzaniaZambiaZimbabweAustraliaCanadaNew Zealand

For example, let us look at Ranamafano National Park in Madagascar. It is 170 square miles and it was established in 1991. In the process, 72,000 people were displaced from in and around the area!!! Think about this happening in the United States! Do you think we'd ever be able to set aside all of Washington and Oregon as a national reserve, and just tell the people there too bad, they'd have to get out now?!
There is a problem with reserves, however; they're not always safe for the animals. When civil war broke out in Rwanda, it wasn't clear whether or not the gorillas would be safe. In many cases parks exist on paper but there's no money for hiring people to protect the areas, so when you go look, people are there clearing land and growing food on it.
More encouraging success stories combine the needs of primates and people, for instance tourism has worked well with gorillas. Up until the war, mountain gorilla tourism was the 2nd largest source of hard currency for Rwanda. Despite close contact between humans and gorillas, and thousands of visitors, there have been no injuries at this site.

The benefits of conservation are international but the costs are borne by the countries where the primates are found. 29 out of the 36 world's poorest countries are in Africa S of Sahara. Nine out of ten Africans live in poverty. The developed countries have to contribute somehow. For example, sometimes the US writes off the debt of a S American country in exchange for them setting up a nature preserve.

Conclusion- Crisis and Opportunity

Currently there is a crisis and it IS depressing. A lot of species will be lost. However, many can be saved, and now is a critical time. The human population growth WILL level off at some point but the question is, what will be left when it does? Right now the choices have to be made about what things will be saved and what will be lost. What sacrifices will we make? What will be the costs?

Some Links Relevant to Primate Conservation

Homepage for the Jane Goodall Institute

Pan Africa News- The Newsletter of The Japan Committee for the Conservation and Care of Chimpanzees and The Mahale Wildlife Conservation Society

A page on primate conservation in Vietnam published by the Institute for Ecology and Biological Resources, National Centre for Natural Sciences and Technology, National University of Hanoi

Environmental and Conservation Research

American Society of Primatologists Conservation Page vation