Local Primates Among Most Endangered

Primates such as monkeys, gibbons and apes are more at risk in Cambodia than any other place in the world, according to a new study released Tuesday by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Trailing close behind Cambodia: primate populations in Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos and China ranked second through fifth on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species.

Nine out of 10 species of primates present in Cambodia are currently flagged as “threatened” due to deforestation, the illegal wildlife trade and hunting, according to the IUCN study, which charts the level of danger to the planet’s 634 known species of primates.

“Cambodia ranks first in the world for the percentage of threatened [primate] species per country,” Jean-Christophe Vie, deputy head of IUCN’s species program, said by telephone from Switzerland on Tuesday.

The IUCN study is the result of data compiled since 2003 by hundreds of researchers worldwide, Vie said. The full report will be released in October, he said.

“Every country has a responsibility, especially countries like Cambodia where there are species that are very restricted to that region so can’t exist anywhere else,” Vie added.

There is no reliable national estimate for the number of primates in Cambodia because large-scale tallies are so difficult, said Edward Pollard, a technical advisor in Phnom Penh for the World Conservation Society.

Instead, scientists and conservationist rely on anecdotal evidence from villagers and the size of habitats, he said: “If there’s less land for them to live on, it’s generally safe to say that we lost monkeys.”

Pollard said that where the Cambodian government and NGO efforts are ongoing, primate populations are stabilizing. But on a worldwide scale, he acknowledged that the situation is bleak.

“Globally, the situation for primates is very bad, and I believe Cambodia at the moment is being highlighted because as a result of habitat destruction in other countries, Cambodia has become the last stronghold for a lot of species that are heavily threatened elsewhere.”

According to Vie, the IUCN study used species percentages instead of straight population counts to determine threat level because it is the “most accurate indication of how well a country is working to save its own resources.” Chan Sarun, Minister of Agriculture, dismissed the IUCN’s claims regarding Cambodia’s primates.

“The report is not true,” he said.

“In fact there are many monkeys in Cambodia. You can see them at Wat Phnom and [Phnom] Tamao Zoo.”

Chan Sarun could not provide specific numbers, but he estimated that there are 20 species of primates in Cambodia. He added that the government is actively pursuing methods to protect Cambodia’s wildlife.

“We educate the villagers to not hunt wildlife and ban illegal export,” he said.

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