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Half of primate species are close to extinction

AT the same time as the human population of the world is set to hit seven billion, over half of the earth's primate species are facing extinction.

Leading zoologists have revealed the 25 most endangered primates -- 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: as of 7pm last night, the human population of the world had reached 6,803,362,494. It hit six billion in 1999 and will hit seven billion possibly as early as next year. But our primate cousins are in a very different position.

There are just over 630 species in total, and more than 300 are now threatened with extinction from developments such as the destruction of tropical forests, the illegal wildlife trade and commercial hunting. Today, the dangers facing the 'Top 25' 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 remain.

There are fewer than 100 northern sportive lemurs left in Madagascar, and about 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).

"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 an insight into some of the animals which, although they may share a distant common ancestor with us, are hardly known by most of us.

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(© Independent News Service, London)

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