Primates in peril: highlighting endangered species Photo by Md. Towhidul Islam at International Primatological Congress

Over 850 primate researchers and conservationists from around the world met this week at the International Primatological Society Congress, to share the latest news and findings in primatology research, and to shine a light on the 25 most endangered primates in the world.

Our closest biological relatives, several species of primates are faced with severe threats to their existence. Out of the 511 currently living species of primates, 60% are threatened with extinction and 75% are seeing their populations in decline.

The Congress – the largest meeting in the world of primate researchers and conservationists – was organized by the secretariat of the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) in collaboration with local partners and hosted a number of top researchers from around the world. Taking place in Nairobi, this year’s conference was ideally situated to look at some of the primates indigenous to Africa, especially the species that are severely threatened.

“It’s fantastic to see that over 20% of the primatologists here are from African countries,” IPS President Prof. Karen Strier said. “This is an important indication of the strength of research and conservation here at a time when both are so urgently needed.”

Among African primates, Madagascar’s species are under the greatest threat, with at least 87% of all primate species there threatened, including the well-known lemurs, who are at risk from habitat destruction, bushmeat consumption, and capture to be sold as pets. Engaging local communities in the protection and conservation of existing population is key to save these species from extinction.

“We firmly believe that working with and sharing knowledge with the people of local communities presents the only chance to save lemurs and the forests,” said Jonah Ratsimbazafy, Secretary-General for the Association for the Study of the Primates of Madagascar, which provides training and education opportunities and since 2015 has established over 20 hectares of protected forest, now managed by the local communities.

Two species of the African Red Colobus monkey also made it to the list of most endangered primates – a rare occasion for two closely related species to both be critically endangered, and an urgent indication of a need for action.

Threats to primate communities are not limited to Africa, however. The Tapanuli orangutan – an Indonesian species only identified last year – was immediately classified as critically endangered and will certainly be on the 2018-2020 Most Endangered list. And the plan to construct a hydrodam in Batang Toru will most likely make this species disappear:

Among the events organized during the congress were an award ceremony, with the late Prof. Colin Groves – the world’s leading expert on primate taxonomy – posthumously receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award, and having a new species of titi monkey named after him, and a roundtable on ‘#MeToo and primatology’ in order to develop a code of conduct for its members around the world. Ashley Judd, a founder of the #MeToo movement was in attendance.


About the International Primatological Society

The International Primatological Society is the largest society for primatologists, with over 1200 members from 67 countries. It works to facilitate cooperation among scientists of all nationalities working with primates and to promote the conservation of all primate species.

About the Great Apes Survival Partnership

GRASP is a unique alliance of nations, research institutions, United Nations agencies, conservation organizations, and private supporters committed to the long-term survival of great apes and their habitat. For more information, visit

About UN Environment

UN Environment is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. UN Environment works with governments, the private sector, the civil society and with other UN entities and international organizations across the world.

For more information, contact:

Keith Weller, UN Environment Head of News and Media,