Primate Advocacy/Conservancy

Primate Advocacy/Conservancy
Shulie Mandick

An Anthropology Paper

A chimpanzee using a twig to reach termites. ©DLILLC/Corbis/VCG/Getty Discover Wildlife
60% of earth’s highly intelligent, non-human primate population faces extinction, and 75% of the primate population is in decline. There are 504 species and sub-species of primates, lemurs, lorises, tarsiers, monkeys, and apes, in the world. With deforestations and destruction of their ecosystems more and more species, once-obscure in their habitat, are discovered. DNA testing is another factor in identifying low numbers of new primate species. Scientists found that “some populations had unique mutations.”
Western Lowland Gorilla ©ShulieMadnick
Some International corporations are significant culprits in the deforestations and destruction of primate habitats in Africa, Madagascar, South America, and Asia. The corporations together with corrupt local governments, businesses, and individuals destroy massive primate habitats to make way for Industrial agriculture, logging, oil and gas drilling, dam road building, and mining. Some locals who live in poverty and governments with the high national debt, such as Ecuador, find themselves in a bind and large corporation (oil and timber in Ecuador) exploit the circumstances.

“The problems of the developing world so often stem from the greed of the developed world,” — Jane Goodall.

Bushmeat consumed by growing native population and new agricultural plantations, oil and gas and other workforce consumption, increased primate hunting. Bushmeat is also exported to China for consumption and the perceived healing powers of bones and body parts of these “exotic” animals. The furs are used in the underground (?!) fashion industry. Illegal pet and zoo trafficking, climate change, regions ridden with war and conflict, and disease (introduced by men and due to the rapidly changing conditions) are also some of the main factors in the plight of the primates.

Primates are essential to the ecological system, spreading seed, keeping nature’s checks and balances, and are also important symbols in some religions and folklore. Their extinction will also mean dying nature and certain human cultures. They are also humans’ closest relatives, with chimpanzees sharing 99% of human DNA, hence a getaway to us understanding ourselves and our origins. Not to mention, how can we, as humans, ethically use primates as lab rats for medical and other experiments when they are so similar in emotion and intelligence to us?!
Snub-nosed monkey @NationalGeographic
But some conservation efforts are glimmers of hope. In conservation efforts, China set aside nature reserves for the snub-nosed monkeys and Malaysia and Indonesia are promoting sustainable palm oil production (see orangutans below). Many NGOs and nonprofit conservation organizations help on the ground and spreading awareness internationally. With half of planet earth’s primates near extinction, the picture seems bleak, but there are some success stories, especially the latter ones below, which give us hope.
Orangutans ©WorldWildLife
Orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra

Fun facts: Orangutans have orange shaggy fur and are the largest arboreal (tree-dwelling) mammals and share 96.4% of our genes.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) keeps a “Red List of Threatened Species.” The orangutans are classified critically endangered!

A century ago there were about 230,000 orangutans, and in the past decade, the population of orangutans has declined by over 50% and is critically endangered. The prediction is that in the next decade the remaining 104,700  Sumatran orangutans will be extinct and the 104,700 Bornean orangutans will be extinct shortly after.

Deforestations by setting deliberate fires and other methods of deforestation make way to agriculture and palm plantations in Borneo and Sumatra (and somewhat in the Amazon as well). Palm oil production is the "main threat to the survival of orangutan populations" More than a quarter of Indonesia's forests disappeared in the last 25 years "– 76 million acres, an area almost the size of Germany – have disappeared."

Palm oil is a significant component in Nutella, and Ferrero (as in Rocher) its parent company should be held liable,  but also in donuts to toothpaste, shampoo, and biodiesel, among other products. Bushmeat local and export consumption, logging for rubber and other uses, pet trafficking and other culprits introduced in the introduction are also accelerating the near-extinct state of the orangutans.

Females give birth to one infant at a time about every 3-5 years, which makes the orangutan population highly vulnerable and it might take longer for the declined population to recover. At the Frankfurt Zoological Rehabilitation Center, orangutans are rehabilitated and released back into the wild. Organizations like World Wild Life together with the local governments of Borneo and Sumatra are setting aside protected areas. Local governments are also issuing sustainable palm oil production practices to hopefully gives some, albeit minor, relief to the critically endangered orangutans to slowly recover its population.
Bewildered Mountain Gorilla ©AfricanWildlifeFoundaiion
Mountain Gorillas in The Congo

Fun facts: Gorillas have unique individual finger prints, as well as nose, prints just like humans, except the nose prints part. :) Humans share 98% of DNA with gorillas.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) keeps a “Red List of Threatened Species.” The mountain gorillas are classified endangered!

The second photograph in this blog post is of the Western Lowland Gorilla. I took this photograph at the Smithsonian National Zoo in DC. While it’s incredibly endangered, plagued with the ebola virus and threatened by hunting, I want to focus on the Mountain Gorillas in the Congo. You can read further about the Western Lowland Gorilla here.

“There were only 254 mountain gorillas left on the planet,” according to Jane Goodall’s website. Despite conservation efforts in Virunga National Park, in the Congo, where most of the endangered mountain gorillas live, there are repeated illegal poaching of these highly intelligent primates. I was tempted to post photos of these devastating killings in this post, but I decided to link here, here and here instead.

The booming eco-tourism in Virunga helps the local economy and in turn, provides funding for and incentivizes mountain gorillas conservation. Veterinary care on the ground which is often needed due to diseases and rangers looking out for poachers to help the conservation effort. Because of the conservation effort, the mountain gorillas number increased to 880, but still, the numbers are too low, and this primate group is still endangered. This conflict zone is hugely volatile, which also puts the mountain gorillas conservation efforts at risk. Soco, an oil company that was interested in drilling in the area retreated after Netflix film Virunga released in 2014.

The low birthrate, one offspring every several years, is also the reason the conservation efforts and the population growth is slow, even if in this case steady
Golden Lion Tamarin @NationalGeographic
The Golden Lion Tamarin of Southeastern Coastal Brazil

Fun facts: Like the orangutans, the golden lion tamarin is also an arboreal (tree-dweller), only significantly smaller. Golden lion tamarin monkey weights between 17 to 24 ounces and are 12-15 inches in height. Female and males are similar in size.They are born with fur. It also became a national symbol when it appeared on Brazil's new 20 Reais note.

The golden lion tamarin is the poster child of conservation success stories. In 1991 only 200 golden lion tamarin was found in the wild on the coastal region of southeastern Brazil. Today, with the efforts of Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, 3,200 live in the wild. Third of which were born through breeding in the zoo and introduced to their natural habitat.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) keeps a “Red List of Threatened Species.” The golden lion tamarins are classified endangered!

Brazil also takes an active part in the conservation efforts of the golden lion tamarin. It "established the Reserva Biologica de Poço das Antas, in addition to other protected areas, where locals can see and learn about the wildlife. The people of Brazil also created the Golden Lion Tamarin Association to coordinate conservation and provide educational materials in the tamarins native area," according to the Jane Goodall Foundation website.

Pet trafficking. Sugar cane and coffee plantations cattle breeding, logging, charcoal, and urbanization contributed to the near-extinct number in the '70s into the '90s. But due to conservation efforts, this omnivores classification was upgraded from critically endangered to endangered.

Early sexual maturity in females (at most 30 months) and the high birth rate and multiples might explain the restoration success?! Also, the intervals in between births are significantly shorter than other primates. Golden lion tamarin, mostly monogamous, usually gives birth to twins though I was not sure if that was the pattern all along nature or because of the artificial insemination at the zoo?! They can also produce one offspring of triplets or quadruplets. Thought the life expectancy of one or more of the babies in a ripple or quadruplet might be very low as one or more babies are born weaker.


1. I am looking for suggestions on how, in a small (or big?!) way, can I contribute to primate conservation?
2. Do you think zoos worldwide are a part of the problem, domesticating and encouraging the capture of primates or help conservation?
3. Do you think research labs who use primates for medical and other invasive research should be shut down?


1. Alejandro Estrada1,*, Paul A. Garber2,*, Anthony B. Rylands3, Christian Roos4, Eduardo Fernandez-Duque5, Anthony Di Fiore6, K. Anne-Isola Nekaris7, Vincent Nijman7, Eckhard W. Heymann8, Joanna E. Lambert9, Francesco Rovero10, Claudia Barelli10, Joanna M. Setchell11, Thomas R. Gillespie12, Russell A. Mittermeier3, Luis Verde Arregoitia13, Miguel de Guinea7, Sidney Gouveia14, Ricardo Dobrovolski15, Sam Shanee16,17, Noga Shanee16,17, Sarah A. Boyle18, Agustin Fuentes19, Katherine C. MacKinnon20, Katherine R. Amato21, Andreas L. S. Meyer22, Serge Wich23,24, Robert W. Sussman25, Ruliang Pan26, Inza Kone27 and Baoguo Li28, "Impending extinction crisis of the world’s primates: Why primates matter," Science Advances, REVIEWP RIMATOLOGY, 18 Jan 2017: Vol. 3, no. 1, e1600946 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600946

2. Carl Zimmer, "Most Primate Species Threatened With Extinction, Scientists Find," Matter, The New York Times, Jan. 18, 2017,

3. Jane Goodall, "What Separates Us From The Chimpanzees," TED Talk, 2003,


5. Orangutan, “Facts,” Work Wild Life,

6. David Max Braun, "National Geographic Photo Ark Spotlight: Golden Snub-nosed Monkey," National Geographic, April 22, 2017,

7. "Golden Lion Tamarin," National Zoo,

8. Ian Johnston, “Orangutans face complete extinction within 10 years, animal rescue charity warns,” Independent, August 19, 2016,


  1. Hi! I really enjoyed reading your blog post. It was quite fascinating and equally informative. Many people think they are in a position where their contribution to helping primate conservation is limited, but simply donating to an organization can go a long way!
    I have personally never been a fan of zoos as I feel that the animals kept there will never view it as a home and rather as an entrapment. However, they are not necessarily in danger's way either so I can see why some would view this practice as actually helping endangered primate species.
    Yes, absolutely those invasive research labs should be shut down, especially when the primates they are experimenting on are at risk for extinction. These animals should be treated as our counterparts, not as scientific variables.

    1. Hi Kelly, Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I was just at a Jane Goodall talk this evening. She said that NIH phased out all labs, 400 plus, that conducted experiments in Chimpanzees. So that's very encouraging news.

  2. Hello! Your blog is massive! Lots of information and well thought out i'd say. I'd also say you went all out for this thing, so good for you. Also just to throw this out there, I've been a fan of zoos for quite awhile. Ever since I was a kid I begged my sister to bring me to the zoo to see the monkeys. Now adays I don't really have the passion anymore. Other than that, great job on the blog!

    1. Haha Seth, thank you. I write about food and culture and do extensive research for my articles, so it's up my alley. Though it was excruciatingly intense but I do it to myself. Lol

    2. Also, I enjoy the zoo as well, and after seeing that the Smithsonian zoo was involved with the conservation of the Golden lion tamarin monkeys, I am now going to visit without the tinge of the guilt I previously had.


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