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Primates on the brink

, particularly to Asian species.

"Southeast Asia's primates are subject to relentless poaching because of the profits to be made from the illegal trade," said Chantal Elkin, manager of the Threatened Species Program in CI's Center for Applied Biodiversity Science. "Although some of the region's threatened primates are taken as pets-notably orangutans and gibbons -they are most often hunted and traded for use in traditional medicines. Most of this trade appears to be international, primarily to China."

As "Flagship Species" and our closest living 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 that make up the Earth's forests.

The 2004-2006 list focuses on the severity of the overall threat rather than mere numbers. Some on the list, such as the Sumatran orangutan, still number in the low thousands but are disappearing at a faster rate than other primates. The December tsunamis that devastated coastal Sumatra have triggered a possible new threat to orangutan habitat from resettlement of area residents.

Changes to the list from 2002 reflect a desire to draw attention to other endangered primates. For example, Miss Waldron's red colobus, which has gone decades without a live sighting, was replaced by the Bioko red colobus to show that other colobus species also are under extremely grave threat.

"All evidence tells us that the first extinctions among Africa's primates will occur among the red colobus," said Thomas Butynski, director of CI's Eastern Africa Biodiversity Hotspots Program. "Miss Waldron's red colobus in Ghana and Ivory Coast, and Bouvier's red colobus in the Republic of Congo may already be extinct, while the Tana River red colobus in Kenya and Bioko red colobus in Equatorial Guinea could be gone within the next 20 years."

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Source:Conservation International


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