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Threatened by palm oil plantations: a Sumatran orangutan. The orangutans on the neighboring island of Borneo are being displaced from their habitats by the cultivation of oil palms. (Photo: iStock.com/stedenmi)

The world of primates is diverse: About 500 species are known, which can be subdivided into wet-nosed and dry-nosed primates. The latter also includes apes such as gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees. But the closest relatives of humans are endangered: Around 60 percent of all primate species are threatened with extinction. Especially because humans invade their habitats. But still the diversity of the monkeys should be saved, my researcher.

Lipstick, chocolate, candles, biodiesel, margarine - as different as these products are, they have one thing in common: They contain palm oil. According to the environmental organization World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), palm oil is found in almost every second supermarket product. About half of the oil produced worldwide comes from Indonesian plantations, and the main growing area is on the 470, 000 square kilometer island of Sumatra, where the Sumatran orangutans also live. But the Palmanbau threatens the great apes: their habitat, the tropical rainforest of Sumatra, is cut down for the oil palms, but also for the wood production, the mountain and road construction. Between 1985 and 2007, the Sumatran orangutans lost 60 percent of their living space through human intervention. The monkeys have avoided the remaining woodland and are now competing in a small space for food. Malnutrition and starvation are the result. According to the Red List of Endangered Animal Species, there are still about 14, 000 orangutans on Sumatra today . In 1900 there were about 85, 000.

Man causes the primate crisis

Like the Sumatran orangutans, many primates are involved. At wissenschaft.de we reported about 60 percent of the more than 500 primate species are threatened with extinction, 75 percent of all populations are shrinking. This is the result of a large-scale study in which researchers from renowned institutes such as the German Primate Center participated. For their analysis, the scientists around Alejandro Estrada from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and Paul Garber from the University of Illinois had evaluated over 200 studies. As a cause for the primate crisis, they call the man. The oil palms of the Sumatran orangutan are the rubber plantations of the Indian Plumplori or the Hainan Crested Gibbon. Other primate species are threatened by the cultivation of soybeans, sugar cane and rice. Livestock farming, oil and gas drilling and mining are also destroying the livelihoods of various species of monkeys. In addition, poachers often hunt primates for sale as bushmeat, traditional medicine or pets.

Species protection urgently needed

Two thirds of all primate species live in only four countries: Brazil, Madagascar, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An opportunity for the primates, because protective measures in these few countries could already achieve a lot. "We have one last chance to reduce or even eliminate the man-made threat to primates and their habitats, guide conservation efforts, and increase awareness of the plight of animals worldwide, " the researchers said. Otherwise, a mass extinction of the primates is imminent.

© science.de - Xenia El Mourabit Display
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