Between farming, hunting and mining, humans have played a substantial role in the population decline of primates. About 75% of primate species are declining and about 60% are vulnerable to extinction. Every ape species and 87% of lemur species are threatened! As of now, 505 primate species have been identified, and the numbers are rising fast as forests are destroyed and what were once isolated populations of primates are revealed.
Primate meat is in demand in local markets of West Africa all the way to China (some wrongly believe primates’ body parts have curative powers). Forests are being destroyed in a variety of tropical ecosystems to make room for the agricultural industry. For example, cattle ranches and soybean farms are replacing parts of the Amazon, rice paddy fields are destroying lemur habitats in Madagascar, and palm oil plantations (where oil in some lipsticks and donuts, to name a few products, comes from) are eliminating parts of forests in Southeast Asia. Shockingly, even purchasing a cell phone is connected to habitat destruction. People in Africa who mine for coltan, an ore used in phone circuits, hunt primates in order to obtain food.
There is an urgency to address these threats to primate populations because primates are important pollen and seed dispersers in tropical ecosystems and primates help us to understand human biology and disease vulnerability. Some have considered constructing fish farms to serve as a substitute protein source, and others are considering ecotourism as methods to reduce habitat destruction. Do you have any other ideas?