These primates, our closest relatives, deserve better than bushmeat … or are we the savages?

The news (The Independent) that primates – spiders monkeys, tamarins, and lemurs amongst others – are threatened with extinction as a result of hunting for bushmeat and habitat destruction, has me chilled and angry! If we cannot have respect for our closest members of the  animal kingdom – one yardstick of our attitude about other species with which we share this planet, I would argue – what hope is there for other, smaller life forms? If we allow this to continue, we the savages for doing so! 

As a Zookeeper for a short period in native New Zealand (I moved onto Education after this), I was priviledged to work on the Primate Section with a number of animals including a group of gregarious Spider Monkeys, a very cute Golden-Lion Tamarin, a couple of lively, regular-calling Lemurs, and a large troop of chimpanzees, amongst others.

The spider monkeys’ enclosure was difficult to keep clean but I loved there quircky characteristics. The chimps – a species made famous by Jane Goodall – were hard to figure out and could be very sweet with each other or also get angry! They had very strong bonds and I was not surprised to find out that they are 98% genetically simlar to humans; our closest living realtive, animal-wise. My favourite was the Golden Lion Tamarin, a tiny (in comparision to the others) animal, with considerable positive  ‘spunk’ – you could imagine I having lots of attitiude to help to survive, despite all the odds.

The latest survey by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) shows these kinds of species are amongst those critically threatened.

Yes, animals that provide bushmeat are an easy target; yes, the countries this happens in, are very often very poor. But, also, yes, there are always alternatives – ecotourism, foreign assitance to help develop local agriculture.

Where there is demand by humans, the hunting of these animals and the destruction of their habitat will continue. Just as in Copenhangen, the governments will need to work together to find altenative – viable – solutions, to what are not intractiable problems. In this International Year of Biodiversity, we owe it to the peoples of these countries, to the species, and ultimately, to ourselves!

On the brink of extinction – 25 of our closest relatives


Governments around the world need to take drastic action to save the most endangered primate species, a new report is demanding

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor

Today a group of the world’s leading zoologists reveals the 25 most endangered members of the primates – the biological order which contains monkeys, tarsiers, lemurs, gibbons and the great apes, including, of course, humans.

We may be doing fine, at least in terms of numbers: at 7pm last night, the human population of the world had reached 6,803,362,494. It hit 6 billion in 1999 and will hit 7 billion possibly as soon as next year. But our primate cousins are in a very different position.

There are just over 630 species in total, and incredible as it may seem, more than 300 are now threatened with extinction, from developments such as the destruction of tropical forests, the illegal wildlife trade and commercial hunting for bushmeat. This morning, the dangers facing the “top 25”, the species really living on the edge, will be highlighted at a conference in Bristol Zoo.

The list includes five primate species from Madagascar, six from Africa, 11 from Asia, and three from Central and South America, all of which are now in need of urgent help to survive.

Conservationists want to highlight the plight of species such as the golden headed langur, which is found only on the island of Cat Ba in the Gulf of Tonkin, north-eastern Vietnam, where just 60 to 70 individuals remain.

Similarly, there are thought to be fewer than 100 individual northern sportive lemurs left in Madagascar, and about just 110 eastern black crested gibbons in north-eastern Vietnam.

“The purpose of our Top 25 list is to highlight those that are most at risk, to attract the attention of the public, to stimulate national governments to do more, and especially to find the resources to implement desperately needed conservation measures,” said Dr Russell Mittermeier, chairman of the Primate Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“In particular, we want to encourage governments to commit to desperately needed biodiversity conservation measures. We have the resources to address this crisis, but so far, we have failed to act. The results from the most recent IUCN assessment of the world’s mammals indicate that the primates are among the most endangered vertebrate groups.”  The report gives a fascinating insight into some of the animals which, although they may share a distant common ancestor with us, are hardly known by most of us at all.

Madagascar is home, for example, to the stunning silky sifaka, a wonderful white lemur which is now one of the rarest mammals on earth, whose numbers may be down to no more than 100 because of forest destruction from slash-and-burn agriculture, illegal logging and firewood collection.

Africa holds creatures as remarkable as the rondo dwarf galago, with a tiny frame, huge ears and huge eyes, and the roloway guenon, a strikingly attractive dark-and-white treetop monkey with yellow thighs and a white beard – both shrinking drastically in numbers.

Asia’s vanishing primates include such creatures as the pig-tailed snub-nosed langur – if you can’t remember that, it’s also usefully called the simakobu monkey – which is down to perhaps 3,300 individuals on its Indonesian islands, and also, sad to relate, an animal which is very familiar to us, the Sumatran orang-utan.

On Sumatra the “old man of the woods” has had a very rapid recent decline because of deforestation and its population is now thought to be below 7,000.

Three of the primates on the top 25 come from Central and South America and include the cotton top tamarin, found only in Colombia, with a fantastic white head of hair, and critically endangered.

However, despite the gloomy assessment, conservationists point to the success in helping targeted species recover. In Brazil, the black lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysopygus) was downlisted to Endangered from Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, as was the golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) in 2003, as a result of three decades of conservation efforts involving numerous institutions, many of which were zoos.

Populations of both animals are now well-protected but remain very small, indicating an urgent need for reforestation to provide new habitat for their long-term survival.

* Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, 2008-2010 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).


Did you see The Cove – would you do this to a friend?

The Telegraph today says Free flipper! argues scientist

Dolphins should be treated as “non-human persons” and merit special rights above other animals because they are so bright, scientists claim.

Researchers argue that it is morally unacceptable to keep such intelligent animals in captivity or to kill them for food.

Dolphins have long been recognised as among the most intelligent of animals but many researchers had placed them below chimps, which some studies have found can reach the intelligence levels of three-year-old children.

MY VIEW: I have always been highly unconvinced that marine parks and aquauria were the best places for dophins. Ever since seeing them in relatively tiny pools in small marine centres in New Zealand, I have felt sorry for them! Also, viewing dolphins and whales in the wild where they are naturally spectacular. Recently seeing the film The Cove – has convinced me not only that such amazingly intelligent creatures deserve better, perhaps they should be counted as ‘friends’ just like man’s ‘best friend’ – the dog!

Dolphins in captivity – important role or just plain wrong?

Atlantic bottlenose dolphins perform for the crowds in Las Vegas

Ever since ‘Flipper’ died in his arms, Richard O’Barry has been on a mission to stop the killing and capture of dolphins. This month, as Andrew Johnson reports, that ambition moves one step closer – when the annual slaughter in Taiji, Japan, is exposed to the world in a new film

My view: I have always been uncomfortable with the notion of having captive animals in enclosed spaces, and would far rather view them in the wild. My wife and I have gone whale-watching holidays for that reason.  Whilst educational aims for keeping wild animals captive – so children and families who would otherwise not have the opportunity to see and interact with them, are able to learn about them – there are many reports of animals not seeming to be happy – by way of repetitive behaviour – with some dieing much earlier in their lives. These worrying aspects raise questions. 

As a zookeeper in New Zealand, I was very aware of the need for animals to have space and be able to go about their daily lives including displaying normal behaviours. Conservations groups – see links below – are working with zoos and dolphinarium to improve the lives of animals. Providing opportunities for this to happen is one of the greatest challenges of  zoo and dolphiarium.


Two alternative views from The Independent  on Sunday forum

In 2008 Kido Foundation wrote and produced a puppet show for youth depicting in dramatic acts precisely the tragic and despicable facts you write about in this article. WSPA supported this effort.
We did it in puppet theatre form because we believe that reaching the younger ones may bring effective and corageous supporters of marina mammals into homes and families…kids see, learn and question aloud! Thus we aim also at reaching the policy deciding adults. Another angle of the strategy to get people to act and stop the killing and begin to enjoy marine mammals beyond the slavery contract which exists today.

google: kidoprojects’ channel youtube

Dr.Marina Fastigi, Kido Foundation, Grenada WI


Typical O’Barry statement with no scientific foundation. [info]jdd_london wrote:
Sunday, 11 October 2009 at 08:28 am (UTC)“…that the life span of a captive dolphin is reduced from around 25 years in the wild to about five; that half of all dolphins die within 90 days of capture.”

Typical O’Barry statement with no scientific foundation:

It is ironic that anti-captive posters displaying the heading of the article were actually deemed misleading in the UK by the Advertising Standards Authority in the 1980s after a complaint by Dr Margaret Klinowska the author IUCN Red Data book on whale and dolphins.

And this is something that O’Barry may not be so keen for people to know:


Weblinks: WSPA is working towards a world where animal welfare matters and animal cruelty ends. wildlife charity working to prevent cruelty and alleviate suffering. Promotes co-operation for furthering wildlife conservation, particularly through European Endangered Species Programmes (EEP).