The world’s most Endangered primates revealed in a new report

Urgent conservation measures are needed to avoid extinction threat.

The world’s 25 most endangered primates have been revealed in a new report.

Called ‘Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, 2018-2020, the report warns that many of the world’s primates are on the brink of extinction and are in urgent need of help.

‘Primates in Peril’ has been compiled by conservationists from Bristol Zoological Society, the Primate Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Species Survival Commission (SSC), the International Primatological Society (IPS), and Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC).

Among the most imperiled primates on the list is the recently identified Tapanuli orangutan from Sumatra – the first great ape described since the bonobo from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1929.

The Critically Endangered primate, which was only identified in Indonesia in 2017, is now facing extinction with fewer than 800 individuals left in the wild, which makes it one of the world’s most threatened primates.

Threats to the species include an ongoing hydroelectric dam project, which the IUCN Primate Specialist Group’s Section on Great Apes has asked to put on hold, as well as ongoing forest conversion and human-orangutan interactions that have led to orangutans being killed and wounded.

The discovery of the great ape brings the total number of great ape species to eight, including humans.

Across the globe sixty-nine per cent of the total 704 primate species and subspecies are considered threatened. 43 percent are listed as Critically Endangered or Endangered, some of which are down to a few dozen or a few hundred individuals.

Another species included on the list is the golden-headed langur, which conservationists warn is on the brink of extinction as there are just 50-60 individuals left, all on the island of Cat Ba off northern Vietnam.

The Critically Endangered roloway monkey, which once occurred in many of the southern forests of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, is also highlighted as there are now thought to be fewer than 2,000 individuals remaining in the wild.

On the list for the first time are the western chimpanzee, Bemanasy mouse lemur, buffy tufted-ear marmoset, Ecuadorian white-fronted capuchin, pied tamarin, Olalla brothers’ titi monkey and the skywalker hoolock gibbon, this last numbering less than 150 in the wild.

One of the lead editors is Dr. Christoph Schwitzer, chief zoological officer at Bristol Zoological Society and IUCN’s red list authority coordinator for the SSC Primate Specialist Group.

“This report reveals the bleak prospects of some of the world’s most incredible animals,” he said. “Some are well-known and others barely studied, but all are in danger of extinction from the relentless destruction of their habitats, illegal wildlife trade and commercial bushmeat hunting.

“We hope this report will help draw attention to their plight. We still have so much to learn about them and yet there is still so much more that needs to be done to protect them. Many are disappearing before our very eyes.

“Despite this, I still have hope that it is not too late,” he added. “There is an unprecedented level of interest in world environmental issues, particularly among the younger generation, many of whom are more inspired, passionate and motivated than ever before to do their part to help make a difference.

“It is this kind of support, combined with effective conservation action, which is vital if we are to avoid losing these wonderful and charismatic animals forever.”

Dr. Schwitzer added: “This report demonstrates the growing importance of collaboration between the international conservation, scientific and zoo communities in the protection of species and habitats. Bristol Zoological Society, for example, works closely with other conservation organisations and zoos to increase our understanding of the ecology, behaviour and conservation status of many highly threatened species and conserve them in the wild.”

Bristol Zoo Gardens is home to two species on the list – the Lake Alaotra gentle lemur and the aye-aye. The Zoo is part of a coordinated captive breeding programme for these two species, as well as nearly 100 other animals under threat around the world.

The Lake Alaotra gentle lemur is endemic to Madagascar, and is the only primate that lives exclusively in wetlands. There could be fewer than 2,500 of these lemurs left as they are under serious threat of extinction. Bristol Zoo has kept this Critically Endangered species since 1990 and currently has a family group of five along with a second breeding group at its sister attraction, Wild Place Project.

Aye-ayes are also under threat in Madagascar due to forest degradation and fragmentation, slash-and-burn agriculture and local communities which believe the aye-aye is a harbinger of death. As such, aye-ayes are often killed whenever they are seen near their villages.

The number of remaining aye-ayes is unknown but thought to be very low. They are the largest nocturnal primate, easily recognisable for their unusual appearance – a long, thin middle finger, continuously-growing fused teeth, yellow eyes, big ears and a long bushy tail. Bristol Zoo Gardens is home to three aye-ayes – a breeding pair and an elderly male called Noah.

Bristol Zoological Society has been working to protect lemurs in Madagascar since 2006 and is currently helping to build a new field station – the Ankarafa field station in the north-western Sahamalaza-Iles Radama National Park. The facility will provide a research base for conservationists and scientists who are working to help lemurs of which more than 90 per cent are threatened with extinction.


Conservation optimism


“Despite the findings of the ‘Primates in Peril’ report, there are inspiring conservation success stories that we also want to share and celebrate,” explains Dr. Gráinne McCabe, Bristol Zoological Society’s head of field conservation and science.

“Such success stories are important to help inspire the conservationists of the future; we hope we can replicate them and learn from them.

“For example, in 2014, several species of primates from Vietnam were placed on the list. As a result of that attention, the Vietnamese government put these species on their national postage stamps to raise awareness about these species. We have also seen the strengthening of protected areas for some of these species, such as the golden-headed langur, which has led to an increasing population size.

“Nature and the environment are hugely important and make such a positive difference to people’s lives – we see it first-hand in our visitors to Bristol Zoo and Wild Place Project. Engaging with them is our greatest opportunity to save wildlife.

“Our vision is for wildlife to be a part of everyone’s lives and for people to want to, and be enabled to, protect wildlife now and for the future. As Sir David Attenborough said, “No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced”.

Bristol Zoological Society is a conservation and education charity. It relies on the generous support of the public not only to fund its important work in the zoo, but also its vital conservation and research projects spanning five continents.

Support Bristol Zoological Society's work


Book online & save on your admission tickets

Buy Now

Book online & save on your admission tickets