Our closest living biological relatives are disappearing


Over half of the world's 504 primate species are now endangered. This fact is established by a new report, which refers to the clearing of rainforests for the benefit of agricultural products - such as palm oil - as the major cause of the primate’s gloomy prospects.

The report, which is published in Science Advances, finds that almost 60 per cent of Earths primates are on IUCNs list of endangered species. In addition, as many as 75 per cent of the primates have falling populations.

According to anthropology professor Paul Garber, who is author of the report, several species of lemurs and monkeys consists of less than a couple of thousand individuals. The situation is worst for the Hainan gibbons, who live on an island off from China. Their population consists of less than 30 individuals.

Deforestation is the principal threat

The decline in the primate population is caused by human beings extensive hunting and habitat destruction.

"Agriculture disturbs and destroys the habitat for 76 per cent of all the primate species on our planet" says Paul Garber before he elaborates, "especially the production of palm oil, soybeans and rubber, timber harvesting and grazing areas for livestock clears millions of hectares of forest."

The orangutans on Sumatra and Borneo are also hard pressed by rainforest deforestation. It is estimated that 2,000 to 3,000 orangutans die each year due to trees being cut down in the rainforest. In the period from 1985 to 2007, 60 per cent of Sumatra's orangutan’s habitat in the rainforest has been cleared, and in Borneo 40 per cent of the rainforest has been cleared since 1973. Read more about the threats to orangutans here >>

What are primates?

Primate is a common term for prosimians, monkeys and apes. Humans also belong to this latter primate group. Primates are one of the most species-rich mammalian families in the world with 504 different known species covering big parts of the world. Of these, 280 species are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered on the UN-backed organization IUCNs list of endangered species.

There are big differences in which primates, that live in different parts of the world. In South and Central America there are 171 species, and these include spider monkeys and capuchin monkeys. In Africa there are 111 species such as baboons, gorillas and chimpanzees. Madagascar has 103 different species and the world's only remaining prosimians in the form of lemurs. Asia has 119 species, and these include orangutans, gibbons and macaques.

You can help preserve the rainforest in Borneo. Become a SOS Borneo partner and help protect and restore the rainforest. Read more here >>

Facts about the orangutan:

Distribution/range: Orangutans only live on the Southeast Asia islands of Sumatra and Borneo, and it is the only great ape found outside of Africa.

Population numbers: 55,000 according to the latest estimate from 2004, but severely reduction is expected to have taken place during the last decade.

Re-production: Orangutans is thought to have the longest childhood in the world, as the age of first reproduction is around 15 years. Orangutan is also the mammal with the longest period between offspring – up to 8 years.

Fragmentation: Many of the remaining orangutan population are fragmented and low in numbers, which creates a high risk of inbreeding and thereby fragile individuals.