Primate Conservation and the Bushmeat Crisis

Posted: September 27, 2011 - 16:38 , by Nicole Richards
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Primates have been at the forefront of The Life in Crisis: Schad Gallery of Biodiversity these days.

In August, our monthly Curators’ Corner featured Matthew Richardson, a primatologist who has worked closely with Conservation International co-authoring several books on the lemurs of Madagascar. His ROM presentation highlighted the tremendous diversity of primates. Did you know that primates can be as large as a gorilla which can reach over 200 kilograms? Or as small as a mouse lemur – Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur weighs in at a meager 33 grams?

Left: Madame Berthe's mouse lemur perched in a tree Right: Eastern gorilla (G. beringei) standing in a grassy clearing

Left: Madame Berthe's mouse lemur (M. berthae) Right: the Eastern gorilla (G. beringei) Photo credits: Conservation International

The group also includes animals as fabulously unique as the aye-aye and the snub-nosed monkeys.

Left: Four Golden snub-nosed monkey (R. roxellana) huddled together Right: Aye-aye (D. madagascariensis) peering over a tree branch

Left: The Golden snub-nosed monkey (R. roxellana) Right: Aye-aye (D. madagascariensis) Photo credits: Conservation International

However, while visitors were delighted at the imagery of this great diversity, another theme was constant. Primates – and nearly all primates – are in trouble.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) criteria, nearly 50% of primates are at risk of going extinct. Yes, primates are in real trouble. While the increasing loss of their forest habitat has been an ongoing concern for their survival, hunting has also become a serious threat, and in some areas even more so than habitat destruction.

What do you know about bushmeat?
The term “bushmeat” generally refers to meat derived from all wild species. However, organizations like the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force are “most concerned with bushmeat that is illegally, commercially and/or unsustainably derived from wildlife”. The impacts of hunting on primates can reach a critical mass when increases in commercial logging, and the roads created to service them, link hunters to cities.

Wild animals, from primates to shark fins, show up in restaurants all around the world – and according to a report by National Geographic News in 2006, this has included right here in Toronto.  Primates are also hunted for use as ingredients in traditional medicine or as gruesome souvenirs.

A severed Gorilla hand resting on a table.

Gorilla hand. Photo credit: Conservation International

Luckily, there are people who work tirelessly to protect primates. If you missed Matthew Richardson’s talk or simply want to learn more about the threats to our closest relatives, be sure to catch our upcoming event with Dr. Peter Apell. Dr. Apell is the Field Programs Manager of Jane Goodall Institute Uganda and sees first-hand the impact of the bushmeat trade on primates.

You, too, can be part of the solution. Sign on to the Bushmeat Promise and learn how your choices, wherever you live, impact species at risk.

As I stare at the various primates on display in the Schad Gallery, I know I’ll do all that I can so that some day I may see them, alive and thriving, in the wild.

Extinction threat growing for mankind’s closes relatives”, IUCN, August 03, 2008

Ape meat sold in U.S., European black markets”, National Geographic News, July 18, 2006

What is the bushmeat crisis?”, Bushmeat Crisis Task Force


Updated February 15, 2013