Washington, August 5 : A review of the world's 634 kinds of primates has revealed that almost 50 percent are in danger of going extinct due to habitat loss and hunting.
The review was done by the world's foremost primate authorities, according to the criteria of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species.
In Asia, more than 70 percent of primates are classified on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered - meaning they could disappear forever in the near future.
The main threats are habitat destruction, particularly from the burning and clearing of tropical forests that also emits at least 20 percent of the global greenhouse gases causing climate change, and the hunting of primates for food and an illegal wildlife trade.
"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 we imagined," said Russell A. Mittermeier, president of Conservation International (CI) and the longtime chairman of the IUCN Species Survival Commission's Primate Specialist Group.
"Tropical forest destruction has always been the main cause, but now it appears that hunting is just as serious a threat in some areas, even where the habitat is still quite intact. In many places, primates are quite literally being eaten to extinction," he added.
With the input of hundreds of experts worldwide, the primate review provides scientific data to show the severe threats facing animals that share virtually all DNA with humans.
In both Vietnam and Cambodia, approximately 90 percent of primate species are considered at risk of extinction.
Populations of gibbons, leaf monkeys, langurs and other species have dwindled due to rampant habitat loss exacerbated by hunting for food and to supply the wildlife trade in traditional Chinese medicine and pets.
"What is happening in Southeast Asia is terrifying," said Jean-Christophe Vie, Deputy Head of the IUCN Species Program. "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," he added.
As our closest relatives, nonhuman primates are important to the health of their surrounding ecosystems.
Through the dispersal of seeds and other interactions with their environments, primates help support a wide range of plant and animal life in the world's tropical forests.
According to Anthony Rylands, the deputy chair of the IUCN Primate Specialist Group, by conserving forest fragments and reforesting to create corridors that connect them is not only vital for primates, but offers the multiple benefits of maintaining healthy ecosystems and water supplies while reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.