Today there are around 504 nonhuman species of primates on the planet. From an evolutionary perspective, these are our closest “relatives”. The primates are mostly concentrated in neotropical regions (primarily the Americas) as well as Africa, Asia and Madagascar.
Among mammals, primates are one of the most species abundant orders (only behind rodentia and chiroptera). The 504 different species are present in 90 countries, however the majority can be found only in four: Brazil, Indonesia, Madagascar and Congo.
The threats against nonhuman primates are caused by humans. Activities such as agroindustrial development, deforestation, cattle raising, mining and construction of dams and roadways have been devastating to primate habitats, according to the study.
The demand for crops such as soy and palm oil is a cause for rapid and widespread destruction of neotropical forests, severely affecting primate populations, as evidenced by the recent quasi-extinction of orangutans in Sumatra and Borneo.
The study cites the construction of dams in the Amazon rainforest as a serious threat against Brazilian primates. Animals in degraded forests such as these commonly show nutritional deficiencies and consequently are more exposed to diseases.
Due to the close genetic proximity, the study points out that the destruction of primate habitats leads to a high risk of disease sharing among humans and nonhuman primates. Global epidemics such HIV/AIDS and Ebola are among the most notorious and infamous diseases that originated from contact with diseased nonhuman primates.
In order to not lose our “closest relatives”, the study emphasizes the need for public policies explanding conservation areas, encouraging sustainal agriculture and reducing worldwide demand for prime materials. Combating the illegal capture and trade of primate species is also a critical priority.
Photo: Orangutan (Source: Flickr, marked for reuse)
Cover photo: www.onegreenplanet.org