Of the 634 known species of primates, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies 48% as endangered, spanning all types of primates all over the world. The IUCN has warned that urgent conservation action is needed not just to protect the endangered primates, but to prevent more primates from being listed as endangered. Worldwide, a number of steps are being taken to protect primates, both in their natural habitats and in environments like conservation parks.
Primates are broadly divided into prosimians, like lemurs, and simians, the monkeys and apes. Both types include a wide array of endangered species, including lemurs, orangutans, langurs, colobus monkeys, lorises, gorillas, and tamarins. The endangered primates are found in the Americas, Asia, and Africa and come from a wide variety of locations within these continents. The IUCN maintains a list of endangered species known as the Red List. Among the primates, every branch of the primate family tree except for humans includes endangered members.
There are a number of reasons why primates are so vulnerable to extinction. One problem seen in many species is that they have a very limited range. Some primates are limited to islands like Madagascar, and if their habitats become compromised, they have nowhere to go and no chances of recovery as a result. Primates are also unfortunate enough to live in areas that are heavily exploited by humans. The rain forests many primates call home are also popular for agriculture and development, leading to widespread clearing of primate habitat. Species that cling to their old haunts may be persecuted by humans who are upset about damage caused by hungry and marauding animals.
Endangered primates are also at risk from human hunters. In some regions, primates are a food source or are kept as pets. While trade in endangered animals is prohibited by law, hunters may engage in the capture and sale of endangered primates anyway. Hunters attempting to comply with the law sometimes have difficulty distinguishing between species, or catch endangered species in traps intended for other animals.
Conservation for endangered primates requires preserving and restoring habitat, providing outreach to encourage people to allow primates to roam freely, and maintaining captive stocks of breeding animals that can eventually be reintroduced into the wild. For some species, these measures may already to be too late. Critically endangered species have dwindling numbers of individuals and are often found in regions that are under severe threat.