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About Primates

    Primates are the mammals that are humankind’s closest biological relatives. We share 98.4% of your DNA with chimpanzees. Apes, monkeys, and prosimians such as lorises, bush babies and lemurs make up the 505 and that's of 234 species of the family tree. About 90% of primates live in tropical forests. They play an integral role in the ecology of their habitat. They help the forest by being pollinators, seed predators, and seed dispersers.

Protecting and Conserving Primates

    Most primates live in tropical, developing countries, and humans compete with them for resources. In many parts of the world, primates are exploited for food, “medicine,” and commercial trade. Primates that raid crops are shot or poisoned. The forest habitat that is home to most species is being logged and cleared at an alarming rate by commercial loggers and subsistence farmers for land and firewood. The fate of several primate species will be decided in the next five years. If we humans collectively and as individuals do not act to protect these endangered primates and their habitats, they both will disappear—lost forever! We should not be lulled into complacency by another upbeat report from the media. We must get involved, write letters, educate others, and help the local communities that live near the forest to preserve their wildlife.

Sustainable Development

    Sustainable development is defined as “increasing or maintaining productivity at levels that are economically viable, ecologically sound, and culturally acceptable, through the efficient management of resources with minimum damage to the environment or human health.” This is the current theoretical phrase used by governments, international funding agencies, and conservation organizations for their programs to save endangered species and help the local people who will decide the fate of those species. The key word is “sustainable.” We must be vigilant to see that what is called sustainable really is sustainable in the long term. What is not needed is more big development schemes that exacerbate the problem and lead to further destruction of forest habitats.


    Protection is the word that must be stressed in regard to the conservation of primates. Both the individuals and their forest home must be protected with laws and enforcement. Monkeys are often a hunter’s main target, because they are the largest diurnal mammal that is easy to detect and shoot. Females with infants are the preferred quarry, and their loss hastens population decline. Many endangered primates live only in primary forest, which has the most valuable timber. In many countries, including the United States, primary forest exists only where it has been protected. Primary forest is a productive biological system from which valuable forest products can sustainably be obtained. Most of the nutrients of tropical forests reside in the vegetation, not in the soils. Thus, once the trees are cut, the few nutrients in the soil are depleted by human cultivation in a few seasons. Primary forest will survive only if people who understand its true value educate others and together they defend the forests from the forces of greed.

Captive Conservation and Release

     Captive conservation and release is another avenue that has been tried recently with the golden lion tamarin. The program was a limited success but had an enormous cost for each individual released. Clearly it would be cheaper for us and better for the primates if they are protected in their natural habitat, where they can be viewed as integral members of their habitat rather than as bored captives. If a primate species exists only in captivity, it is no longer a part of a natural evolutionary system but a living specimen in a museum.

    The individual primates that are lucky enough to survive and be rescued from illegal poachers and traffickers should be the only source of primates used for captive breeding and display. They must be the ambassadors for their species. From them, we can learn about their species and appreciate their uniqueness—and our own.

What Are The Threats To Primates?

Primates are threatened by human destruction of their forest home and human commercial hunting for food and pets. The alarming rate of world wide tropical forest destruction is estimated to be 200 acres per minute. Over 40% of the 234 primate species are threatened with extinction. 13 of these species are critically endangered which means they will disappear within the next few years if greater efforts aren't made to protect them.

Ten Things You Can Do for Primate Conservation

1. Call, write, or fax your U.S. congressional representative (U.S. House of Representatives, Washington DC 20515; 202-224-3121) and senators (U.S. Senate, Washington DC; 202-224-3121) and urge them to support legislation that protects endangered species and their habitats, increases funding for foreign aid programs that specifically address sustainable development and the conservation of global biodiversity, increases enforcement of wildlife trade laws to stop the smuggling of endangered species, curtails the use of primates in inhumane experiments, encourages family planning and discourages human population growth. The earth has finite resources—we must control ourselves.

2. Call, write, or fax the president of the United States (The White House, Washington DC 20500; 202-456-1414) and ask that the United States impose sanctions on countries that do not enforce their endangered species laws or
that violate international wildlife treaties.

3. Register to vote, and vote for candidates who support the protection of the environment, biodiversity, and endangered species.

4. Write to the president of the World Bank (1818 H Street NW, Washington DC 20433) and ask that the World Bank make its loans to countries conditional on their protection of their national parks, biodiversity, and endangered species.

5. Ask your local zoo to adopt a park in a developing tropical country and provide it with supplies for educating local people about their endangered wildlife.

6. Get your local school to adopt a park or reserve or a school in a community near a park and share information and ideas about your wildlife and theirs.

7. Join the Peace Corps, which has many environmental and wildlife conservation projects in habitat countries.

8. Take a working vacation with Earthwatch (680 Mount Auburn Street, Box 403, Watertown MA 02272-9104; 800-776-0188; http://www.earthwatch.org) and get actively involved in primate field research in a habitat country.

9. Be an ecotourist rather than a sightseer. Be sure the tour company you choose follows the principles of ecotourism set forth by the Ecotourism Society (802-447-2121). The idea is to ensure that part of the money you spend will benefit the local community and not adversely impact the environment.

10. Join and support in any way you can some of the following organizations, which support the conservation of primates.

Membership Benefit

In addition to supporting important projects worldwide, members of PCI have access to the Web’s most comprehensive online resource for primate information, All The World’s Primates.


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Primate Conservation, Inc
1411 Shannock Rd
Charlestown, Rhode Island 02813-3726

Telephone:(401) 364 7140
FAX: (401) 364 6785

Email PCI: nrowe@primate.org