Primates at Risk of Extinction
From lemurs to orangutans, from maquis to gorillas, primates look frighteningly like us. For this reason, it is not surprising that more than 500 species are thoroughly researched and taken under protection.
Despite this effort, more than 60% of primate species are faced with extinction due to human activities, loss of natural habitats, hunting, illegal trade, climate change, and diseases.
The danger of extinction makes the steps to protect them important. There are many different conservation moves for primates, such as anti-hunting patrols, relocating animals, expropriating the conservation issue, and reintroducing animals to their habitat.
We found that no studies have been conducted on how effective more than half of these steps would be. Lack of evidence means that it is almost impossible to know if the steps to take will work.
Even when studies on the impact of environmentalist steps were published, we found it difficult to come to a definitive conclusion that the moves were working due to a few problems in the design of these studies. This was also the case for some steps that were worked on 20 or 30 times.
This huge knowledge gap is alarming because, without sufficient knowledge, researchers cannot learn from experience alone, prioritize efforts, and create resources to best protect primates. Indeed, environmentalists can take ineffective steps before finding evidence, and even harm the animals they are trying to protect.
The studies we have examined cover only 14% of the more than 500 primate species, and only 12% of them are facing extinction. Researchers mostly focus on great apes and larger ape species.
Unfortunately, all of the families are not included in the studies we have examined. For example, we don’t have any studies in our database for maquis found in Southeast Asia or nocturnal monkeys in Central and South America. This poses a problem because we cannot assume that a successful step for one primate species will work for another, due to the unique behaviors and ecology of each species.
We also found that South America and Asia are not sufficiently involved in environmental research on primates. This is quite alarming, as both regions are home to many species of primates that are notorious for extinction.
Why is this happening?
Given the limited budget and time, several competing priorities, and the urgency of many environmentalist scenarios, it becomes easy to understand why environmentalists cannot focus on evaluating their actions.
“Do these environmental steps improve the future of a population in the long term?” The question may seem simple, but for many primate species, it is difficult to answer. This is because many primate species live in crowded tropical forests.
Also, poor eyesight and difficult access to animals make it difficult to count. If researchers do not get a good idea of how many primates there are, they will not be able to detect whether the numbers of animals decrease, remain stable, or increase. We cannot examine the health of animals without seeing them.
To measure the impact of the steps taken, environmentalists need to watch primates for a long time because these animals are long-lived and reproduce very slowly. For example, the longevity of a few animals in a stable population can be confusing. Also, it must be ensured that any effect resulting from protective steps is related to the action taken rather than coincidence.
These efforts aside, publishing any work is a difficult issue. Worse still, the pressure for success stories rather than work in prestigious journals means that published articles can give a biased image to the real issue.
Increasing the evidence
Now, the significance of the issue is acknowledged: Gaps must be identified to ensure studies focusing on endangered species and areas that have not been adequately studied.
Funding organizations should dedicate all their resources to the evaluation of green moves. Meanwhile, experts such as the “Primate Specialist Group” can contribute to research by developing basic principles on how to rigorously test the moves made.
Academic scientists can organize appropriate studies together with environmentalists. The findings databases we have created have easy-to-understand summaries of the actions taken and the impacts they have created, and there is also a section for reporting findings.
Environmentalists also need to be careful, as there is no precise information about the impact of the steps taken. This is a very important issue because primates and their habitats face alarming threats and urgent action is needed to protect them. If we take a finding-based approach to protect primates, we can assure they will continue to fascinate us in the future.