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Report: After century of survival, many primates face extinction

the golden bamboo lemur
The golden bamboo lemur tops the list of endangered primates  

January 10, 2000
Web posted at: 5:43 p.m. EST (2243 GMT)

In this story:

Some perilously small populations

Like 'canaries in the coal mine'


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After surviving the 20th century with no extinctions, dozens of primate species face the threat of disappearing forever, according to a report released Monday by Conservation International.

VideoCNN's Natalie Pawelski reports on the primate species that are in danger of extinction.
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Animal world

One in five species of primates, many living in biologically rich but rapidly shrinking habitats, could become extinct within a generation, according to the organization's office in Washington, D.C.

From giant mountain gorillas to tiny golden lion tamarins, Sumatran orangutans to yellow-tailed woolly monkeys, the study identifies 25 of the most endangered primates.

The critically endangered species "are just the tip of the iceberg," said Russ Mittermeier, CI president and primate specialist. "These are the animals that are down to a few thousand individuals, and in a few cases, a few dozen individuals."

Some perilously small populations

Most of the endangered apes, monkeys, lemurs and other primates live in "biodiversity hotspots," home to the richest terrestrial species diversity, and some of the most extreme habitat destruction.

"As we enter the new millennium, we risk losing our closest living relatives
the Sumatran orangutan
The Sumatran orangutan  
in the animal kingdom, as well as many of the world's highest biodiversity areas that these animals have come to symbolize," Mittermeier said.

The report lists species with perilously small populations, primates recently discovered or rediscovered and species whose populations were stable only a few years ago but now face extinction.

Conservationists attribute most of the species' declines to tropical deforestation by loggers and settlers and primate killing by bushmeat hunters. Live capture for the pet trade and export for biomedical research also threaten some species.

"Close to 20 percent of the world's primates stand a reasonable chance of disappearing within the next 10 to 20 years unless we take decisive action," said William Konstant, co-author of the report.

Twenty-five biodiversity hotspots, where 96 percent of the most threatened primates live, cover only 1.4 percent of the Earth's land surface, but claim more than 60 percent of all plant and animal diversity, according to CI.

Like 'canaries in the coal mine'

Hotspots with the most endangered primates are in Southeast Asia -- particularly Vietnam -- Madagascar, Brazil's Atlantic Forest Region, the Guinean Forests of West Africa and Sundaland.

 woolly monkey
The yellow-tailed woolly monkey  

The group's report, "Primates in Peril," suggests the population declines linked with habitat destruction bode poorly for humans.

"If the primates are in trouble that probably means a lot of other species of animals and the plants they eat are also in trouble," said Karen Strier, a researcher from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

"We see them as the canaries in the coal mine, warning us that something is terribly wrong with the way that we are living on this planet," said Peter Seligmann, chairman of Conservation International.

A non-profit field-based organization working in 27 countries, CI develops scientific, policy and economic solutions to protect global biodiversity.

Environmental Correspondent Natalie Pawelski contributed to this report.

Conservaton International
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