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Half of the world's primate species face extinction

Latest update : 2008-08-05

Almost 50% of the world's 634 species of primates face extinction because of the destruction of rainforests and widespread hunting, according to a report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Nearly half the world's species of primates face extinction unless urgent action is taken to curb hunting and protect their natural habitat, according to a new study.

While destruction of rainforests has always been seen as the greatest threat, hunting has become an equally devastating factor, according to researchers behind a so-called Red List of Threatened Species naming some 300 of the 634 species of ape and monkey which could disappear.

"In many places, primates are quite literally being eaten to extinction," said Russell Mittermeier, from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) which carried out the survey released on Monday.

"We've raised concerns for years about primates being in peril, but now we have solid data to show the situation is far more severe than imagined," Mittermeier said.

Jean-Christian Vie, deputy head of the IUCN's species programme, said the situation in southeast Asia was "terrifying," with 90 percent of primate species in Vietnam and Cambodia at risk, partly due to their being hunted for Chinese medicine ingredients.

Overall in Asia some 70 percent of primates are under threat of being wiped out.

"To have a group of animals under such a high level of threat is, quite frankly, unlike anything we have recorded among any other group of species to date," Vie said.

In Africa, 11 of the 13 kinds of red colobus monkeys are listed as at threat, while two may already be extinct: Bouvier's red colobus (Procolobus pennantii bouvieri) and Miss Waldron’s red colobus (Procolobus badius waldroni).

"Among the African species, the great apes such as gorillas and bonobos have always tended to grab the limelight," said IPS President Richard Wrangham in a statement.

"Even though they are deeply threatened, it is smaller primates such as the red colobus that could die out first," he added

Elsewhere, species from tiny mouse lemurs to 120-kilo (250-pound) mountain gorillas face challenges to survive, says the report.

Scientists are continuing to find previously unknown species, though they fear some may die out even before they are discovered.

Not all the news is bad, says the report, which points to several species which have recovered due to conservation programmes.

In Brazil, for example, two species of squirrel-sized tamarins have been taken off the critically endangered list, though future survival depends on protecting their forest habitat.

Researchers are also considering reclassifying the mountain gorilla due to increased populations in their only habitat -- the protected highland forests of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A global environmental network of more than 1,000 governments and non-governmental organisations, IUCN reports draw on the expertise of more than 10,000 volunteer scientists. It's "Red List" is widely used as an index of species endangerment.

Date created : 2008-08-05