More than 60% of primate species are threatened with extinction mainly due to human activities, such as habitat loss, hunting, illegal trade, climate change and disease.
This extinction crisis makes effective conservation actions vital. There are many different possible conservation actions for primates, like anti-poaching patrols, relocating animals, publicising conservation issues and reintroducing primates into their habitats. But a new study shows that very little is known about what actually works to protect primates.
A team of expert primatologists and conservationists from 21 countries examined the evidence for 162 primate conservation actions to see if they actually worked. They found there wasn’t any research published testing the effectiveness of more than half of the actions. So, it is impossible to know whether these actions work or not.
These huge gaps in knowledge are worrying, because without adequate information, researchers can’t learn from experience and can’t prioritise efforts and funding to best protect our primate relatives. Indeed, without access to evidence, conservationists might apply actions that are ineffective or even damaging to the animals they seek to protect.
The studies reviewed only covered about 14% of the more than 500 primate species and just 12% of threatened primate species. And they mainly focused on the great apes and some of the larger monkey species. There are, for example, no studies of the tarsiers of south-east Asia, or of the night monkeys of Central and South America.
South America and Asia are underrepresented in current conservation research on primates. This is particularly worrying because both are home to a high number of threatened primate species.
Academic scientists can also collaborate with conservationists to design appropriate studies. Evidence databases provide easily-understood summaries of actions and their effectiveness, as well as a place to report findings – and partially address the problem of publication.
Conservationists also need to be cautious as it’s clear that in many instances it’s not yet known if an action is effective or not. This is important because primates and their habitats face ominous threats and urgent effective conservation measures are needed to protect them.