Primates in Peril – Conservationists Reveal the World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates



Hyderabad, India - The world’s 25 most endangered primates have been revealed in a new report today at the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity COP11.

Mankind’s closest living relatives – the world’s apes, monkeys, lemurs and other primates – are on the brink of extinction and in need of urgent conservation measures according to Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, 2012–2014.

The report, announced by some of the world’s leading primate experts every two years, reveals those species most in danger of becoming extinct from destruction of tropical forests, illegal wildlife trade and commercial bush meat hunting.

The list features nine primate species from Asia, six from Madagascar, five from Africa and five from the Neotropics. In terms of individual countries, Madagascar tops the list with six of the 25 most endangered species. Vietnam has five, Indonesia three, Brazil two, and China, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Kenya, Peru, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Venezuela each have one.

With this report, conservationists want to highlight the plight of species such as the pygmy tarsier (Tarsius pumilus) of southern and central Sulawesi, which was only known from three museum specimens until 2008, when three individuals were captured inside the Lore Lindu National Park and one more was observed in the wild. The few remaining fragmented and isolated populations of this species are threatened by human encroachment and armed conflict.

Madagascar’s lemurs are severely threatened by habitat destruction and illegal hunting, which has accelerated dramatically since the change of power in the country in 2009. The rarest lemur, the northern sportive lemur (Lepilemur septentrionalis), is now down to 19 known individuals in the wild. A red-listing workshop on lemurs, held by the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist group in July this year, revealed that 91% of the 103 species and subspecies were threatened with extinction. This is one of the highest levels of threat ever recorded for a group of vertebrates.

The list of the world’s 25 most endangered primates has been drawn up by primatologists working in the field who have first-hand knowledge of the causes of threats to primates. One of the editors of the report is Dr Christoph Schwitzer, Head of Research at the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation (BCSF), a sister organisation of Bristol Zoo Gardens.

Dr Schwitzer said: “Once again, this report shows that the world’s primates are under increasing threat from human activities. Whilst we haven’t lost any primate species yet during this century, some of them are in very dire straits. In particular the lemurs are now one of the world’s most endangered groups of mammals, after more than three years of political crisis and a lack of effective enforcement in their home country, Madagascar. A similar crisis is happening in South-East Asia, where trade in wildlife is bringing many primates very close to extinction.“

More than half (54%) of the world’s 633 primate species and subspecies with known conservation status are classified as threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. The main threats are habitat destruction, particularly from the burning and clearing of tropical forests the hunting of primates for food, and the illegal wildlife trade.

Dr. Russell Mittermeier, Chair of the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group and President of Conservation International, said: “Primates are our closest living relatives and probably the best flagship species for tropical rain forests, since more than 90 percent of all known primates occur in this endangered biome. Amazingly, we continue to discover new species every year since 2000. What is more, primates are increasingly becoming a major ecotourism attraction, and primate-watching is growing in interest and serving as a key source of livelihood in many local communities living around protected areas in which these species occur.’ 

“It’s also important to note that primates are a key element in their tropical forest homes”, he continued. “They often serve as seed dispersers and help to maintain forest diversity. It is increasingly being recognized that forests make a major contribution in terms of ecosystem services for people, providing drinking water, food and medicines.”

Despite the gloomy assessment, conservationists point to the success in helping targeted species recover. Due largely to the efforts of dedicated primate conservationists, and underpinned by considerable public and media interest in the plight of our closest relatives, the world has not lost a single primate species to extinction in the 20th century, and no primate had yet to be declared extinct in the 21st century either, although some are very close to total extirpation. This is a better record than for most other groups of larger vertebrates that have lost at least one, often more, species.

Several species have been removed from the list — now in its seventh edition — because of improved status, among them India's lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus) and Madagascar's greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus), which appeared on the first six lists, but has now been taken off thanks to the great increase of interest generated by its appearance as a top 25 species.

Jannette Wallis, Vice President of Conservation at International Primatological Society, said: "We are proud to have been involved with the 'Top 25' list from the start. The selection process takes place before a large audience and has become a highlight of our biennial conferences. Experts from around the world contribute field data and recent news of the latest threats to the growing list of critically endangered primates. From these, we select 25 species that most fairly and broadly represent the plight of primates. This list has been used quite effectively by primatologists around the world when seeking policy changes, raising global awareness, and educating local populations about primate protection and conservation."

Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, 2012–2014 has been compiled by the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC) and the International Primatological Society (IPS), in collaboration with Conservation International (CI) and the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation (BCSF).


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For more information please contact:
CI - Andrew Kolb +1 (202) 297-3802 / (at the CBD)
CI - Patricia Yakabe Malentaqui +1 703 341-2471 /
Bristol Zoo - Catherine Phillips, +44 117 974 7306 /
IUCN - Lynne Labanne, +41 22 999 0153 or +41 79 527 7221 /

Notes to Editors:

Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation (BCSF)
• Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation (BCSF), part of the Bristol Zoological Society, is supported by, and based at, Bristol Zoo Gardens. It carries out science and conservation projects at home and abroad.
• BCSF carries out field conservation programmes in the wild and conservation research programmes, both in the wild and at Bristol Zoo Gardens.
• The field projects carried out by BCSF are each linked to major exhibits at Bristol Zoo.
• BCSF is made up of an international team of experts dedicated to mobilising people for wildlife conservation and science.
• BCSF is working to empower communities to tackle their wildlife and conservation challenges and conducts high quality research

Bristol Zoo Gardens
• Bristol Zoo Gardens is part of the Bristol Zoological Society, and is an education and conservation charity which relies on the income from visitors to support its work.
• Throughout 2010, Bristol Zoo will be running a series of events to highlight the importance of conserving the world’s biodiversity, as part of the international Year of Biodiversity. For more information visit the Zoo website at
• To find out more about the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity visit the website at
• The Zoo is involved with more than 100 co-ordinated breeding programmes for threatened wildlife species.
• It employs 140 full and part-time staff to care for the animals and run a successful visitor attraction to support its conservation and education work.
• Bristol Zoo Gardens supports – through finance and skill sharing - 12 projects in the UK and abroad that conserve and protect some of the world’s most endangered species.
• Bristol Zoo Gardens is a member of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums. BIAZA represents 99 member collections and promotes the values of good zoos and aquariums.
• Bristol Zoo Gardens is also a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) as well as the European Associations of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA).

Conservation International (CI)

Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature and its global biodiversity to promote the long-term well-being of people. Founded in 1987 and marking its 25th anniversary in 2012, CI is headquartered in the Washington, D.C. area. CI employs 900 staff in nearly 30 countries on four continents and works with more than 1,000 partners around the world. For more information, please see or visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

The International Primatological Society (IPS)

The International Primatological Society (IPS) was created to encourage all areas of non-human primatological scientific research, to facilitate cooperation among scientists of all nationalities engaged in primate research, and to promote the conservation of all primate species. The Society is organized exclusively for scientific, educational and charitable purposes. For more information about IPS, visit


IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges by supporting scientific research; managing field projects all over the world; and bringing governments, NGOs, the UN, international conventions and companies together to develop policy, laws and best practice.

The world's oldest and largest global environmental network, IUCN is a democratic membership union with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists and experts in some 160 countries. IUCN's work is supported by over 1,000 professional staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world. IUCN's headquarters are located in Gland, near Geneva, in Switzerland.


Species Survival Commission

The Species Survival Commission (SSC) is the largest of IUCN’s six volunteer commissions with a global membership of around 7500 experts. SSC advises IUCN and its members on the wide range of technical and scientific aspects of species conservation, and is dedicated to securing a future for biodiversity. SSC has significant input into the international agreements dealing with biodiversity conservation.