October 24 marks International Gibbon Day, a global celebration of these adorable, singing and acrobatic primates. This day is also important because they are the most endangered of group of apes, according the World Wildlife Fund.
There are 20 different species of gibbons and they are endemic to the tropical and subtropical rainforests of south Asia. This includes the Hainan gibbon—the rarest primate in the world and found only on Hainan Island in China. Their numbers dipped as low as 8 in the 1980s. But through conservation efforts, there are now 27 individuals in the wild, said Wenbo Zhang, who works with Cloud Mountain Conservation, an NGO that focuses on gibbon conservation in China.
Hainan gibbonChao Zhao
In fact, most of these tree-dwellers are listed as endangered or critically endangered due to their rapidly disappearing habitats, as well as poaching and the pet trade.
So what makes these creatures so special? Gibbons are known to be the smallest and fastest of all non-flying arboreal mammals. These apes are intelligent, sing unique songs (some even sing in duets) and use grooming to increase bonding between family members, Zhang told EcoWatch. Most of them are also strictly monogamous and form long-term relationships with their partners.
Last year, a Chinese-led team and experts from the Zoological Society of London discovered an entirely new gibbon species in southwest Asia—the Skywalker hoolock gibbon. Its "Star Wars"-inspired name reflects the gibbon's high treetop home.
Unfortunately, there are less than 150 Skywalkers left in the wild, Zhang said.
"The Skywalker hoolock gibbon … faces the same grave and imminent risk to its survival as many other small ape species in southern China and Southeast Asia due to habitat loss and hunting," Samuel Turvey, a senior research fellow at the Zoological Society of London, said in press release about the species. "Increased awareness of the remarkable ecosystem of the Gaoligong mountains and improved conservation is essential, to ensure we have time to get fully acquainted with this exciting new species before it's too late."
This day is all about raising public awareness about this little-known animal in order to save it from extinction.
Check out these amazing apes below:
By Jason Bittel
At last count, there were 505 nonhuman primate species living in the wilds of 90 countries across the globe. That might make you think of Earth as the Planet of the Apes (plus monkeys, lemurs, tarsiers and lorises), but according to a large study published last month, those statistics are a little misleading.
In truth, just four nations—Brazil, Madagascar, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—harbor 65 percent of all primate species. And nearly two-thirds of the primates living in those hot spots (we'll call them the Big Four) are facing extinction.
Primates can be loosely defined as mammals with opposable thumbs, but they come in all sizes and dispositions, from timid, one-ounce pygmy mouse lemurs to stately, 550-pound Grauer's gorillas, to drunk 12-pound vervets. And the places these animals call home are just as diverse. Let's see how the humans in the four most primate-heavy countries are managing (or failing) to save their cousins.
Big, Beautiful Brazil
That more primates—crested capuchins, dwarf marmosets, red-bellied titis, sakis, uakaris, night monkeys and so on—live in Brazil than anywhere else should come as no surprise. The South American country is nearly as large as the U.S., and within its borders lies 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest, which accounts for more than half of all the rainforest left on Earth.
Unfortunately, Brazil allowed agriculture and timber operations to clear 114 million acres of this prime primate habitat between 2001 and 2016—the largest loss of forest over that period among the Big Four. (The next closest, Indonesia, lost half as much.) Even more concerning, Brazil has recently shifted toward more environmentally exploitative government policies and looser conservation laws, which scientists suspect will lead to even more deforestation.
Mining is also threatening Brazil's primates, and not only because it's tearing up the land. A 2017 study found that the country has at least 126 dams holding back mining-contaminated water and that these structures are "vulnerable to failure in the forthcoming years." And when these dams do burst, they befoul every waterway for hundreds of miles downstream with a wave of toxic sludge. (Mining dam collapses are dangerous for non-endangered primates, too. Twenty people died in 2015 when a large mine-tailings dam collapsed on the Doce River.)
But for all of Brazil's environmental woes, the country is also full of hope. According to Russell Mittermeier, coauthor of the new study and chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Primate Specialist Group, Brazil is the most successful among the Big Four at maintaining its primate diversity. He attributes this to the work of the country's large community of primate conservation professionals.
Take the northern muriquis, the largest monkeys in the New World. Also known as wooly spider monkeys, they can grow to more than four feet tall, and people often hunt them for meat. Further, the large tracts of Atlantic forest they once inhabited have been sliced and diced to the point where only pockets of the monkeys remain.
But in recent decades, organizations like the Muriqui Institute for Biodiversity, the Pro-Muriqui Institute and the National Institute of the Atlantic Forest have formed to give these monkeys a boost. While northern muriquis are still critically endangered, one population has risen from just 22 individuals to at least 354 as of 2015. (For a related Brazilian primate success story, check out my earlier piece on golden lion tamarins.)
Brazil is also capable of halting its deforestation habits and has done so in the past. From 2005 to 2012, the country reduced its rate of forest loss by a whopping 80 percent.
Brazil is the architect of its own destiny, for good or ill, but as of now, Mittermeier thinks it will tip toward the good. "It's the country where we have the highest likelihood of keeping all known species and subspecies into the next century," he said.
DRC's Future Is Very Much TBD
Gorillas, chimpanzees, monkeys and the most adorable of the adorable (though a bit gross), bushbabies, all call the Democratic Republic of the Congo home—as does one of the world's fastest growing human populations. The mountainous jungles of this large central-African nation are lush, but rampant government corruption and myriad warring factions run just as thick here. Together, these factors make the DRC the most worrisome of the Big Four.
The DRC has some of the planet's most important great ape conservation areas—places like Virunga National Park, home to the mountain gorillas that Dian Fossey made famous and Kahuzi-Biega National Park, where you'll find the rare Grauer's gorilla (as few as 17,000 are thought to remain).
As in the other Big Four nations, logging and agriculture threaten the DRC's wildlife, but poaching is the biggest problem here. Almost every primate known to inhabit this country has at some point ended up for sale in its bushmeat markets—even the tiny talapoin, which weighs about as much as a teacup Yorkie. At a single market in Kisangani, the country's third-largest city, one study found more than 8,500 primates over the course of four months—including many critically endangered ones, such as the Dryas monkey and, yes, the Grauer's gorilla.
It's likely that several of the products you own are adding to the loss of primates in the DRC. The country produces more than half of the world's cobalt, which is a key component in the lithium ion batteries that power smartphones, computers and electric cars. In just the past five years, demand for cobalt to fuel these industries has tripled, and experts expect it to double again by 2020.
The cobalt mining industry brings more roads, more deforestation and more workers looking for relatively easy sources of protein into the DRC's otherwise remote forests. A study from 2017 estimated that 8 to 10 million people make a living each year at these surface mines—and that translates to a lot of primates on the plate.
While corruption and lack of government accountability are rife in the DRC, even here there is hope. A recent census of the mountain gorillas Dian Fossey studied shows that the gorilla's numbers have actually increased since 2010, making it the only great ape population on Earth proven to be on the upswing.
Madagascar's on Its Own
The African island of Madagascar has the luxury of sharing precisely zero land borders with another country. This is good news in some ways, as it means the island's wildlife is protected from violent conflicts and from poachers spilling over from neighboring countries (as happens on the DRC-Rwanda border and the Brazil-Colombia border). But islands come with their own biodiversity risks.
The landmass now known as Madagascar separated from the Seychelles and India between 84 and 95 million years ago and it boasts an array of species found nowhere else on Earth. This includes five families of primates made up of 15 different genera and 111 species and subspecies.
"Madagascar is far and away the highest major primate conservation priority in the world," said Mittermeier.
But he notes that 90 percent of its natural habitats have already disappeared, thanks to agriculture and logging over the past century. "You have all of this incredible primate diversity found nowhere else in an area about the size of three New Jerseys," he said. "And New Jersey is not a very big state."
The Malagasy government has done very little to enforce its own environmental laws. Fortunately, local communities and NGOs are taking matters into their own hands. For instance, the only way tourists can gain access to the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park—home of the indri, one of the world's largest living lemurs—is by hiring a local guide.
NGOs are also taking the reins to save the critically endangered golden-crowned sifaka. About 6,000 of these cream-colored beauties remain in the northern stretches of the island, where forest fragmentation has greatly reduced their habitat. A local Malagasy NGO known as Fanamby teamed up with Conservation International in 2005 to secure a 49,000-acre protected area for the sifaka. Their numbers continue to decline, but so long as there are protected forests, there is hope.
Indonesia Is a Mixed Bag
Last comes Indonesia, a nation of more than 17,000 islands in the Pacific. Known for its orangutans—some of which have lost more than half of their habitat over the past 16 years to palm oil plantations—Indonesia is also home to googly-eyed tarsiers, lanky gibbons and lovely little langurs.
The country also has the largest population of Muslims on Earth—which is good news for its primates for one simple reason: Primates aren't considered halal, so Muslims usually won't eat them.
But while Indonesian primates have dodged the dinner plate, they have not escaped habitat destruction. Widespread clearing of tropical forests for palm oil and timber has put many primates here on the ropes. Without their natural homes, the animals sometimes seek food and shelter near human communities, where they are viewed as garden pests and killed. Weighing up to 220 pounds, orangutans are particularly conspicuous crop raiders, and when found, they're often shot.
The endangered Javan gibbon, also known as the silvery gibbon, is also running out of room to roam. Logging has pushed these animals out of the lowlands they prefer and into higher elevations, but there's obviously a limit to how high the gibbons can go and still survive. At most, only about 4,000 silvery gibbons remain, and some scientists estimate that their habitat has been reduced by up to 98 percent in all.
Still, conservationists aren't giving up on the gibbon yet. They are about to release into the wild a half dozen silvery gibbons that were born in captivity. It's not a magic bullet, but each primate returned to the wild population helps expand genetic diversity and gives the species a tiny boost toward staving off extinction.
As to where the Indonesian government stands on primate conservation, the timbre of a recent news story is not encouraging. The country is set on a massive hydroelectric dam project and appears to be actively downplaying concerns about the effect its construction could have on Tapanuli orangutans, a species discovered just last fall and already feared to be endangered.
The Good News?
Realizing so many of our cousins face so many existential threats of our own making can be disheartening, but there is one silver lining: No primate has gone extinct in more than 100 years. (There have been some close calls, though. For instance, the Bouvier's red colobus monkey was thought to be extinct until scientists rediscovered it in 2015.)
"This is the only larger group of mammals for which we did not lose at least one species or subspecies in the 20th century," said Mittermeier. The question now is, can we make it another 100 years with our family tree intact?
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
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waterlust.com / @abamabam
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One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
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And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
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Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
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Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Mike Gaworecki
Earlier this month, a new orangutan species discovered in Sumatra, Indonesia officially became the eighth great ape species known to exist on Earth—and, thanks to habitat destruction caused by the expansion of human development, it instantly became one of the most endangered great apes on the planet, too.
There are believed to be fewer than 800 Batang Toru orangutans (Pongo tapanuliensis), as the new species is called (it's also sometimes referred to as the Tapanuli orangutan), all living in a degraded primary forest on Sumatra increasingly surrounded and bisected by roads. But the species is hardly alone amongst its primate relatives in being threatened by human activities.
According to the biennial Primates In Peril report, the latest installment of which was released Tuesday at the Primate Society of Great Britain's 50th anniversary conference in London, 62 percent of the more than 700 known species and subspecies of apes, lemurs, monkeys, and other primates are currently facing serious threats to their survival. Forty-two percent of them are listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered.
The report lists the top 25 most endangered primate species, and while the list was compiled before the Batang Toru orangutan was described to science, the authors of the report said it would almost certainly appear on the list next year. Its closest relative, the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), found only on the island of Borneo some 1,000 kilometers (or about 620 miles) from Sumatra, makes its first-ever appearance on the list, however.
"The Bornean orangutan appears in this list for the first time because of large population declines over the past 50 years," the authors of the report wrote. "While the most recent estimate of 46,952–72,941 Bornean orangutans appears substantial, this masks very serious threats. There has been a dramatic decline in numbers over the past few decades and the forests where it lives are now highly fragmented with very few areas able to hold 1,000 individuals or more."
Somewhat surprisingly, the third existing orangutan species, the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii), is a more distant relative of the Batang Toru than the Bornean orangutan. Because they are both endemic to the island of Sumatra, the Batang Toru and the Sumatran orangutan were actually believed to be the same species until very recently. Though it does not appear on the Primates In Peril top 25 list of the world's most endangered species, the Sumatran orangutan is currently listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The list does include six lemurs from Madagascar, such as the James' sportive lemur (Lepilemur jamesorum), which was only described in 2006 but is already listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, as well, because its population has been reduced to less than 2,000 individuals.
James' sportive lemur (Lepilemur jamesorum)Bristol Zoological Society
Five species from Africa also make the list, including Grauer's gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri), which has "suffered a catastrophic decline since the 1990s due almost entirely to illegal hunting by miners," per the report. It's estimated that there are now less than 4,000 Grauer's gorillas in the world, which would mean their population has declined by 77 percent in just a single generation.
Eight other species from Asia join the Bornean orangutan on the list, as do five species from the Neotropics. The Caquetá titi monkey (Plecturocebus caquetensis), found only in Colombia, made the list because it is believed to possibly have a population of less than 250 individuals. The species has been known since the 1960s, but the ongoing armed conflict in Colombia delayed its formal description to science for a half century. They are facing high rates of habitat loss, and the cessation of hostilities threatens to open up even more of its habitat to development by humans.
"The signing of a peace deal between the Colombian government and armed groups could lead to more infrastructure to exploit oil and mineral resources," the report states, "but the deal also provides an opportunity for conservation and research on this species for the first time since its discovery."
Illustration of a Caquetá titi monkey (Plecturocebus caquetensis)Bristol Zoological Society
Dr. Christoph Schwitzer, director of conservation at Bristol Zoological Society and the deputy chair of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group, served as lead editor for the Primates In Peril report. While he acknowledged that the report "makes for alarming reading," he said that "it is vital that we use it to highlight the desperate conservation need for so many primate species, many of which are on the very brink of being lost to extinction."
Urgent conservation action is needed to save each of the species on the list, Schwitzer added.
"Primates are a prominent and essential component of a very large part of the world's tropical forests and savannahs," Anthony Rylands, deputy chair of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group and primate conservation director of Global Wildlife Conservation, said in a statement.
"We are only now beginning to understand their diversity and their ecological role in these extraordinarily rich and complex environments, yet hunting and the degradation, fragmentation and loss of their habitats is devastating their populations worldwide—more than half of all primates are now threatened. This report draws attention to the severity of the situation for just a few of those most endangered."
Juvenile Grauer's gorilla (Gorilla gorilla graueri) in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Democratic Republic of CongoBristol Zoological Society
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
The Explorers Club in New York City was covered with portraits of primates on May 10, in the first art exhibit the club has ever hosted in its 113 years. The show featured artist Robin Huffman who was honored Wednesday evening for her work in environmental conservation.
The exhibit, Witness, displayed the many monkeys and apes that Huffman has cared for during her time at animal sanctuaries around the world. Huffman told EcoWatch that these animals deserve to live freely just like we do and to make that happen, we must be their voice.
Huffman spoke at The Explorer's Club on May 10. Cassie Kelly
"This is the first gallery we've ever done and we've done it in part because her work is downsizing a global issue," said Will Roseman, executive director of The Explorers Club. "Witness is the perfect name for it because it's forcing us to witness what we've done to these beautiful creatures."
Huffman has not always been a painter, in fact, she used to be an interior designer in New York where she lived a lavish life of cocktail parties and schmoozing with corporate executives. But, about 10 years ago, Huffman found her true purpose, which she said was to help primates.
"I went to look at gorillas on a volunteer vacation. I was studying them, and then I fell in love with them," she said. "Suddenly my career of thirty years, with a great income and a condo, just didn't matter."
Huffman ditched her high-rise apartment overlooking the city and headed for Cameroon, where she worked at a sanctuary for several months. "Now, I refer to my life as BP and AP, before primates and after," she explained.
She began collecting the monkey's stories, photographing them and later painting them.
This is Zero Zero, a mustached guenon, who arrived at the sanctuary after being orphaned, sick and injured. After four days of care and attention—he loved mangos and leaves—Zero Zero fell ill and died.
Zero Zero arrived at Ape Action Africa sanctuary in Cameroon with just days left to live. Cassie Kelly
"I was still grieving five years later, thinking about the brief life of that innocent animal," she said. "Then, somebody said 'you should paint his picture, tell his story,' and I did it as a way to get over the sadness and pay tribute."
Since beginning to paint, Huffman has created dozens of portraits. She often works out of friends' homes or anywhere she is welcome.
"I've even painted in the corridor of the storage facility where I hold my work," she said. "I sold my home to be able to budget and afford going to Cameroon and pay to volunteer at the sanctuaries. My ideas of what is important changed a lot. Things that were unimportant felt like unwanted weight."
Huffman alongside her portrait of Kecksie, a vervet monkey. Cassie Kelly
Huffman said her life has a calling now. She wants to educate others about the exotic pet trade, horrendous conditions for animals in captivity, poaching and overall conservation efforts that can give these animals their habitat back.
For example, this is Rocky, she was put on display as a spectacle for 10 years with a chain around her neck, which was attached to a metal cart. She now has poor vision from the harsh sun and is very small for a full grown female chimp due to malnutrition.
Rocky is a chimp, timid and shy, but has a heart of gold. Cassie Kelly
"It's about animal welfare, but also about conservation and preserving a species," she said. "It's about respecting the individual and realizing they have as much of a right to live as we do."
Frida, a patas monkey, was also at the Ape Action center where she gorged herself on scrambled eggs. Cassie Kelly
"It'd be a better world if there didn't have to be sanctuaries, but for now they do have to exist," she concluded.
By Steve Williams
A new report indicates that more than half of wild primate species are facing extinction. With nearly three quarters of the world's primate population already under threat, is there anything we can do to save our primate cousins?
The study, which was conducted by a team of 31 leading scientists from across the globe, looked at the current data we have on the state of primates around the world and the challenges they face, utilizing data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) among other sources. While we have several smaller studies that give us a worrying insight into the decline of primates, this research aims to provide a broader snapshot—and the results aren't encouraging.
2 Orangutans Who Spent Their Lives in Cages Are Returned to Their Forest Home https://t.co/kevnJBquJ5 @orangutans @opfuk— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1482807008.0
Of the total 504 primate species that we have on record it is estimated that 60 percent are under threat of extinction, while 75 percent have populations that are declining. What's more, the researchers believe that unless we take concerted action right now, several primate species may have as little as 25 years before extinction claims them.
To give an idea of how desperate the situation is, the Hainan gibbon, which is found in China, is now thought to have reached just 25 individuals. In fact, 22 out of the 26 primate species residing in China are now either critically endangered or under threat. The picture is similar in other areas like Indonesia and Madagascar, the latter of which is home to lemurs and shares some of the highest burden of primate population loss in the world.
Unfortunately, even when it comes to species who have received global attention and are being protected with conservation efforts, the picture is still worrying.
For example, figures show that the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan saw its habitat decline by nearly sixty percent during the period 1985 and 2007. One of the major contributors to this problem has been land clearing so that humans can use areas that were once the orangutan's home for farming.
While we have previously learned that orangutan populations have shown some surprising resilience to this threat, they cannot survive the onslaught for much longer. Though campaigners have urged tighter controls on things like palm oil and soy production, which together with livestock farming is leading to massive deforestation and thereby driving down habitable areas for the orangutan, action has been sadly lacking.
One thing the study does highlight that intersects with human political development is that civil unrest in the primates' home countries may be one driving force behind this rapid descent toward extinction. In countries where food scarcity has become a problem due to civil war and internal conflict, the scientists noted people may turn to hunting primates as a source of food and particularly as a source of rich protein.
Furthermore, in countries where poverty and a lack of job opportunities create systemic financial burdens, people may turn to hunting primates and sell them on the black market. Obviously both of these are terrible, but unless we tackle the root cause of these actions, namely extreme poverty and conflict, it's unlikely we can create meaningful change.
So can we do anything to stop this decline? The answer is yes and one way actually comes down to many of our buying choices. While global governments can help by utilizing international aid as well as peacemaking to ensure that nations are protecting their primates, we can use our spending power to avoid products that are going to contribute to deforestation and, as a result, species decline.
This Map Shows How Your Consumption Habits Impact Wildlife Thousands of Miles Away https://t.co/ni7ydIcCKN @foeeurope @globalactplan— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1484216114.0
Prof. Jo Setchell from Durham University, one of the researchers in this study, is quoted by the BBC as saying, "Simple examples are don't buy tropical timber, don't eat palm oil." In terms of broader actions, Setchell also points out, "we need to raise local, regional and global public awareness of the plight of the world's primates and what this means for ecosystem health, human culture and ultimately human survival."
Given that primates are our closest animal cousins, they can teach us so much about ourselves. They also provide a vital link to the animal kingdom that teaches us about other species, too. As primates are often a key species in biodiversity and are a good marker for wider habitat loss, their extinction would signal not just the loss of a profoundly important part of our heritage, but it would mean that the natural world as we know it will have changed fundamentally and not for the better.
If you would like more tips on how you can help save species like the orangutan, Care2 has a guide. We also have information on how to choose products that do not contribute to deforestation and primate loss.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.