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Safeguarding indigenous peoples’ lands could save primates, research suggests

Primates live in a wide range of tropical, subtropical and temperate forests, and woodlands (Andrew Matthews/PA)
Primates live in a wide range of tropical, subtropical and temperate forests, and woodlands (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The extinction of the world’s primates can be prevented by protecting the lands of indigenous peoples, research suggests.

Experts suggest more than two thirds of the planet’s 521 non-human primate species – ranging from lemurs to gorillas – are threatened with extinction due to pressures on their habitats from agriculture and extraction of natural resources.

And new analysis by international researchers shows that indigenous peoples’ lands account for 30% of the area in which primates live – called their range.

It is thought that some 71% of primate species inhabit land that belongs to indigenous peoples.

The study suggests that the higher the proportion of land the animals share with indigenous peoples, the less likely a primate species is to be classified as threatened or as having declining populations.

The study team included the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the University of Illinois and the University of Exeter.

Dr Kim Hockings, from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, said: “We will only avert the mass extinction of primates if we respect and support indigenous peoples to maintain their languages and cultural and symbolic ties to their lands and waters.

“Indigenous peoples must be supported in their efforts to shield their lands from the unsustainable demands of multinational corporations, consumer nations, and national governments that favour short-term economic benefits over human rights, biodiversity, and environmental health.

“The enforced loss of connection between indigenous peoples and their lands worldwide results in the over-exploitation of natural resources and the erosion of unique socio-cultural connections between people and nature.

“Indigenous peoples should be respected for their systems of knowledge and considered by the global conservation community as holders of essential information, land rights, and as partners in the quest to safeguard biodiversity.”

Primates live in a wide range of tropical, subtropical and temperate forests, and woodlands.

A key factor putting them at risk is habitat destruction to satisfy the unsustainable demands of industrial societies for food and non-food commodities.

The researchers say: “Halting indigenous land dispossession, returning land to dispossessed indigenous peoples, and respecting and safeguarding indigenous sovereignty represent critical priorities that are central in protecting animal and plant biodiversity, and reducing carbon emissions.”

They add: “Safeguarding indigenous peoples’ lands, languages, and cultures represents our greatest chance to prevent the extinction of the world’s primates.”

The study is published in the Science Advances journal.