Of all of the wild animals we share our only home with, humans often feel a profound emotional connection the other primates. Yet more than 60% of species are already endangered, and 75% of them have declining populations. Primate-based ecotourism that provides income to the communities living near to the animals – communities who can play a major role in conserving them – may be the only effective tool at our disposal to ensure the survival of many species.Russell A. Mittermeier, Chief Conservation Officer, Re:wild; and chair IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group
Why primates? They are our closest relatives and species like gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans are some of the well-known and well-loved animals.
Gorilla watching is a huge industry and has been operating for over 40 years. In 2006 Mountain gorilla tourism was the number one foreign currency earner in Rwanda. There are over 500 primate species and many are stunning including the Douc Langurs of Vietnam, Proboscis Monkeys on Borneo, the lemurs of Madagascar and the tamarins of South America. Some are easy to see, while others like the Owl-faced Monkey are so rare, shy and secretivethey are unlikely to be seen by anyone other than the most dedicated mammalwatcher. Taxonomists have revealed that primate diversity is much greater than previously thought, with many new species of South American monkeys and lemurs identified in the past 20 years. And the last large African mammal discovery was a primate – the Kipunji monkey – which is endemic to the Southern Highlands of Tanzania
So it is little wonder that primates are a natural focus for mammalwatchers. But this is more than a hobby. A major reason to promote primatewatching is the potential conservation benefits it could bring.
Imagine what it could mean for conservation if primates got even a fraction of the attention birds do. In the USA alone, an estimated US$17 billion is spent each year spent on bird-watching travel to destinations in the USA and abroad. In 2016, nearly 300,000 birdwatchers visited Alaska alone, spending US$378 million and supporting about 4,000 jobs. An estimated 150,000 bird-watchers will visit Colombia from the United States alone over the next decade, generating US$47 million annually and sustaining 7,500 new jobs.
If you are on this website you probably already know how much fun watching primates can be. But it is much more than just entertainment. Primatewatching can stimulate awareness of primates: species which are often flagship animals for the dwindling habitats they live in. This is particularly true in countries like Madagascar, where lemur watching is an important tourism attraction, so helping to maintain the protected area network. This in turn can stimulate economic development in communities surrounding the protected area to create a positive loop, with those communities helping to ensure these species are valued and have a future. One example of a locally-based tourism operation is the Community Guides Network in Analamazoatra Community Reserve next to Andasibe NP in Madagascar. Over 30 local guides are employed to take visitors to see the Indri.
We need to go and see these creatures in their natural environments, spend time with the communities upon whose survival they ultimately depend, share our excitement and enthusiasm, and, ultimately, contribute to the local economy.
Primatewatching – Field guides help when you encounter a primate in the field. Travel guides help you get around. But neither help you know where best to go to find a particular primate. This site fills that gap …
Primates in Peril – outlining the 25 primate species in most need of urgent conservation intervention.
Primate Conservation – Follow Russell Mittermeier on Twitter @PrimateWatcher