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Threats to primates

This page presents some information on the threats to primates.

Habitat loss and habitat degradation

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species states that 38% of primate species listed are threatened with extinction (IUCN, 2007). A report on the World's 25 Most Endangered Primates details the causes of these threats as habitat loss for agriculture (which may be for food crops or for biofuels), selective and clearcut logging, and fuel-wood; in addition there have also been massive reductions in primate numbers because of live harvesting for research and commercial bushmeat hunting (Mittermeier et al., 2007).

By contrast, populations of Homo sapiens are burgeoning in all areas. The world’s human population is currently around 6.3 billion people, and forecast to be 9.1 billion by 2050 (United Nations, 2007). Whilst there are protected areas set aside for conservation, these do not encompass all populations and even in those areas that are nominally protected, the resources of the country may mean that the legislation is not enforced (Fleagle, 1999). The goals of economic development may be in direct opposition to those of conservation, forcing difficult decisions to be made (Workman, 2004).


Primates are hunted both for food and for sale to the pet industry. Infant primates may be caught by first killing the mother so that the infant is easier to catch. Industrialised logging requires roads for transporting the felled trees, and these roads give access to parts of the forest that may previously have been inaccessible, thereby putting more primate populations at risk (Wilkie and Godoy, 2001). This accessiblility links logging and bushmeat, a separate primate conservation issue.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is the agreement that regulates the international trade in endangered species between signatory countries.  Species are listed in the CITES Appendices.  Those in Appendix I are threatened with extinction and international trade is forbidden except for scientific research.  Appendix II lists species which are not threatened with extinction but may become so without strict controls.  All primate species are listed in Appendix I or II (CITES, 2008). As encouraging as this may appear, there is concern that CITES's remit is too narrow in focusing on international trade, and also that adding a species to an Appendix may be counter-productive in making it more lucrative ('t Sas-Rolfes, 1997).

Invasive species

Some species are particularly vulnerable to human diseases so any exposure to people puts them at risk of anthroponotic infection; in addition, cross-species transmission may also put humans at risk of diseases from primates (Lilly, 2005). People who may be exposed to primates are those who are legitimately present in habitat areas e.g. park wardens, tourists, researchers and others; and those who should not be present e.g. poachers and illegal loggers (Lilly, 2005).

Crop raiding

As human populations encroach on primate habitats, primates may find their ranges are impacted upon. To get enough to eat, they may resort to crop-raiding from people living close to habitat areas. This human-wildlife conflict may result in farmers shooting animals that come on to their land (Lee and Priston, 2005).

Accidental death

Traps and snares left by hunters are indiscriminate in what they catch and can cause slow and painful deaths to animals that are caught in them (Waller and Reynolds, 2001). A trap left for a forest deer may just as easily snare a curious primate.

Natural disasters

A consequence of logging and other deforestation can be the fragmentation of primate habitats - primate populations can find themselves isolated from other groups. This can result in a lack of genetic diversity (the genetic variation within a population), and populations become more inbred. When natural disasters occur, this may mean that the population is less able to adapt to the changed environment resulting in local extinction (Frankham et al., 2002).

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