Forget Those Other Monkeys, Just Save the Bonobos

image of bonobos face to face, with one holding the other's chin

Bonobos display human-like emotions, and often use cuddling and grooming to sustain their relationships.

Some people may be upset by an article in last week’s ScienceAdvances, Impending Extinction Crisis of the World’s Primates, which states that “Alarmingly, ~60% of primate species are now threatened with extinction and ~75% have declining populations.”

But don’t worry, they’re not talking about people primates – it’s just the monkeys, chimps, gorillas, and other apes that are going extinct. Apparently all the primates are dying off due to “extensive habitat loss through the expansion of industrial agriculture, large-scale cattle ranching, logging, oil and gas drilling, mining, dam building, and the construction of new road networks.” Bummer.

I’ll admit it might be useful to keep a few chimps and orangutans around. After all, as the species most closely related to humans, they’re crucial to our understanding of the human genome and how it evolved, which might come in handy for things like curing diseases. Plus, they’re able to pass the mirror-recognition test for self-awareness, indicating some level of advanced cognition.

But really, given that our conservation resources are limited, perhaps we should leave all those other monkeys to fend for themselves, and focus on the one species really worth saving – the bonobos!

In case you’re unfamiliar with bonobos, they are the most hilarious members of the primate family (other than some humans, of course). Here are my top three reasons why we should ensure they don’t go extinct, at least not yet:

  1. They’ve evolved complex social structures based on cooperation and mutual benefit, rather than violence;
  2. They’re capable of altruism, compassion, empathy, kindness, patience, and sensitivity;
  3. They’re really into sex, and use it as a greeting, as a way to form social bonds, and for conflict resolution and reconciliation.

So, if you’re the one responsible for all that habitat loss, please stop doing that, so that we can keep these amusing and educational bonobos available for future nature documentaries.

 


From ScienceAdvances, January 18, 2017:

Impending Extinction Crisis of the World’s Primates: Why Primates Matter
Alejandro Estrada et al

Abstract

Nonhuman primates, our closest biological relatives, play important roles in the livelihoods, cultures, and religions of many societies and offer unique insights into human evolution, biology, behavior, and the threat of emerging diseases. They are an essential component of tropical biodiversity, contributing to forest regeneration and ecosystem health. Current information shows the existence of 504 species in 79 genera distributed in the Neotropics, mainland Africa, Madagascar, and Asia. Alarmingly, ~60% of primate species are now threatened with extinction and ~75% have declining populations. This situation is the result of escalating anthropogenic pressures on primates and their habitats—mainly global and local market demands, leading to extensive habitat loss through the expansion of industrial agriculture, large-scale cattle ranching, logging, oil and gas drilling, mining, dam building, and the construction of new road networks in primate range regions. Other important drivers are increased bushmeat hunting and the illegal trade of primates as pets and primate body parts, along with emerging threats, such as climate change and anthroponotic diseases. Often, these pressures act in synergy, exacerbating primate population declines. Given that primate range regions overlap extensively with a large, and rapidly growing, human population characterized by high levels of poverty, global attention is needed immediately to reverse the looming risk of primate extinctions and to attend to local human needs in sustainable ways. Raising global scientific and public awareness of the plight of the world’s primates and the costs of their loss to ecosystem health and human society is imperative.


ScienceAdvances is the new open-access journal from AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) and is free for readers. You can find the full text for the above article here. I recommend subscribing to the weekly print edition of Science.