The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) observes that despite our shared lineage, humans are pushing chimpanzees toward extinction. Chimps have already disappeared completely from four countries and are under immense pressure everywhere else they live.
According to WWF, gorillas are killed by bush meat traders, a trade that has facilitated the spread of the deadly Ebola virus. Efforts to protect gorillas are often hampered with weak law enforcement and civil unrest in many places where gorillas live.
Primates survival threatened
Primatologists and conservationists who attended the 2nd African Primatological Society Conference from September 2-5, at the Imperial Botanical Beach Hotel, in Entebbe, expressed concern over continuous threats to primate populations in Africa, in form of habitat destruction, poaching, bush meat trade, pet trade, human-primate conflicts and disease, among other challenges.
According to the African Primatological Society (APS), Africa including Madagascar has the highest concentration of non-human primate diversity on earth. The continent is home to 43 per cent of the world’s primate species and subspecies, and five of the top 12 countries on earth for primate diversity (Madagascar, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Cameroon, and Nigeria). However, the conservation and management of non-human primates and their habitats is one of Africa’s top challenges in sustainable development.
Despite their biological, ecological, socioeconomic, and cultural importance, the survival of most African primates is continuously threatened. With more than 62 per cent of threatened species worldwide, primates are among the most threatened vertebrates. On mainland Africa, 55 per cent of all primates are threatened and the situation is worse in Madagascar, APS adds.
In his paper “The State of Primatology in East Africa,” Stanislaus Kivai, a senior primatologist at the Institute of Primate Research, National Museums of Kenya, notes that East Africa is critical for primate conservation and supports approximately 59 per cent of the African primates biodiversity, representing 17 genera, 38 species and 47 subspecies.
According to Kivai, Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya are the richest primate countries in East Africa, supporting 27, 23, and 19 species, respectively. Burundi is the least diverse and holds 13 species. Further, six percent of Africa primates’ genera, 24 per cent of the species, and 47 per cent of the subspecies are prevalent in East Africa and overall, the region supports 68 per cent and 41 per cent of the total African primates genera and species, respectively.
“More importantly, 26 per cent of the primate species and 17 per cent of the subspecies found in East Africa are threatened. One third of primate species occur in Africa, some of which are endangered and critically endangered. From gorillas, chimpanzees to golden monkeys and red colobus monkeys to the more common baboons and vervet monkeys and man, the most destructive primate, but also the most resourceful,” the APSvice president as well and founder of Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, observes.
Why primates may be extinct
“Statistics are alarming and if nothing is done, humans will be the only primates living on earth in less than 50 years. The reasons for the extinction of primates include habitat destruction for agro-industry, mining, urbanisation, bushmeat hunting in West and Central Africa, in Madagascar, and outbreaks of major diseases such as Ebola and anthrax,” warns Prof Inza Kone, APS president and director general of the Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques in Ivory Coast.
“This presents a challenge to primatologists, conservationists, practitioners and stakeholders to be more coordinated and equipped in our approach whether in formulating research policies or implementing conservation laws. This is why APS was created,” Prof Kone added.
Kivai, Kalema-Zikusoka and Prof Kone were among the speakers at the 2nd APS conference that took place from September 2-5, 2019 at the Imperial Botanical Beach Hotel in Entebbe, under the theme “Primate Conservation in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities” focusing on policy, practice and sustainability.
In their paper “The State of Primatology in North Africa: A brief overview of Primate Conservation,” Sian Waters and Ahmed El Harrad observe that understanding human-primate relations is key to conservation efforts.
Little research is currently done on the species in Algeria due to security restrictions and population estimates vary greatly between 2,500-12,500. In Morocco, forest destruction, fragmentation and the exploitation of the species for trade, has led to the collapse of primates in the Middle and High Atlas Mountains.
According to Waters and El Harrad, these populations are the focus of conservation work conducted by the Moroccan NGO Barbary Macaque Awareness and Conservation (BMAC), which also raises awareness among the Moroccan public about the illegal trade.
What government says
The Prime Minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, reiterated Uganda’s commitment to conservation of wildlife during the conference.
“We have set aside 14 per cent of the total land area of the country as wildlife protected areas comprising 10 national parks with an area of 11,180 sq. km., 12 wildlife reserves measuring 8,764 sq. km, 10 Wildlife Sanctuaries measuring 850 sq. km, and five Community Wildlife Areas measuring 27,604 sq. km,” Dr Rugunda disclosed.
“The central forest reserves, which provide critical habitat for wild animals, also cover an area equivalent to six per cent of total area of the country. The gazetted protected areas of wildlife and the forest reserves cover about 20 per cent of land,” Rugunda added in his speech read by the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Prof Ephraim Kamuntu.
According to Dr Rugunda, conservation efforts are geared towards achieving Strategic Goal C of the Convention on Biological Biodiversity ,which is “To improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity.”
“Specifically, we are delighted to have surpassed Aiichi Target 13, which states that “By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes,” Dr Rugunda added.
According to Dr Rugunda, these networks of protected areas have made it possible to conserve Uganda’s rich biodiversity, which include more than 50 per cent of the world’s remaining population of mountain gorillas, 11 per cent of the world’s recorded species of birds constituting 50 per cent of Africa’s bird species richness.
Gifted by nature
“We have 7.8 per cent of the Global Mammal Diversity constituting 39 per cent of Africa’s Mammal Richness; Uganda also has 19 per cent of Africa’s amphibian species and 14 per cent of Africa’s reptile species, 1,249 recorded species of butterflies and 600 species of fish. Uganda is indeed a country gifted by nature,” Prof Kamuntu noted.
Currently, tourism is the leading foreign exchange earner for Uganda, bringing in $1.45 billion (23.5 per cent of the total exports) annually. Tourism is a critical contributor to Uganda’s GDP.
In 2018, tourism contributed Shs7.27 trillion (9 per cent of GDP) and tourism sector provides 1.173 million jobs in Uganda (7.8 per cent of total employment).
The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), executive director, Sam Mwandha put the importance of primates to Uganda’s economy into perspective by highlighting that 60 per cent of UWA revenue comes from primate tourism, with gorillas contributing about 50 per cent. UWA receives Shs60 billion every year from primate tourism.
According Mwandha, part of the revenue generated from primate tourism is shared among communities. He also mentioned that primate research has generated vital information needed to minimise the impacts of human-wildlife conflicts.
“However, considerable information gaps for primate species, including information on the state of habitats and ecosystems, declining biodiversity, poaching, climate change and diseases, pose great challenges to primate conservation in Uganda.”
“We are doing our best to find solutions to these challenges, including enforcement of the new Wildlife Act 2019, increased staffing, ranger based threat monitoring programme and sensitisation of communities,” Mwandha noted in his paper “Primate Conservation in Uganda; Opportunities and Challenges.”
“In addition, there has been recruitment and training of prosecutors, monitoring health of primates and response to epidemics in collaboration with stakeholders, veterinary interventions to treat infected wildlife, rescue captive and snared primates, habituation of primates for ecological and behavioural studies for better management, upgrading of forests to forest reserves and proposals to acquire land for corridors to conserve primates and their habitats,” Mwandha added.
According to Kivai, primate research and conservation has made significant strides over the last four decades and East Africa instituted primate research sites and long-term projects.
These include the Amboseli baboon and Ewaso-ngiro baboon projects in Kenya, Kibale Primates project in Uganda, as well as Gombe and Udzungwa mountains primates’ projects in Tanzania.
Kivai suggests that future primatological research in East Africa should focus on diversity, ecology and distribution of prosimians and overall primates’ genetic diversity.
APS, formally established in Ivory Coast in West Africa in 2017, has a mandate to stimulate the development of concerted domestic effort to curb the threats facing the continued survival of primates. APS aims at providing a platform for sharing information, tools and technical assistance to support Africa’s preparedness and domestic efforts in primate research and conservation.
According to Prof Kone, APS promotes information sharing, building capacities, networking at regional and global level and informing policies and actions.