Royal award for work on endangered primates

6 February 2008 General News
By Paul Eccleston
Last Updated: 2::01am GMT 6 /2-/2008



The Oxford Brookes team beat hundreds of other entrants in the Environment category and will receive their Queen's Anniversary Prize - which recognises outstanding achievement - at Buckingham Palace.

  • Monkey haveing a seat by a window (left) and a surprised monkey caught eating jackfruit, which is grown by local residents
    Monkey sitting by a window (left) and a surprised monkey caught eating jackfruit, which is grown by locals

    They have been looking at primate species in Sri Lanka's rainforest - particularly the purple-faced leaf monkey - and how they are increasingly threatened from growing human populations intruding and destroying their habitat.

    Sri Lanka is classified as being in the world's top 10 a biodiversity hotspots much of which is concentrated in the 'Wet Zone' - a remote and relatively unexplored region - which makes up less than 23 per cent of the total land area.

    The People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) has funded research in the Wet Zone for the past three years to try and solve the problems caused by increasing urbanisation.

    The fragmentation of the monkey's habitat has brought them into conflict with people and the research team believes that unless urgent action is taken there will be no habitat left and the species will become extinct in the wild.

    The western purple-faced leaf monkey (Trachypithecus vetulus nestor) - which is amongst the 25 most endangered primates in the world - is endemic to the Wet Zone of Sri Lanka. The World Conservation Union lists it officially as 'critically endangered'.

    A population collapse of more than 80 per cent is predicted over the next 10 years due mainly to habitat loss caused by agriculture, grazing, logging and deforestation.

    Despite this no investigation had previously been undertaken to discover the numbers and distribution of the monkey. The two small areas where it is found are currently unprotected and they have been forced to forage in suburban home gardens which has brought them into direct conflict with human settlers.

    Working with members of the NGO Lorris (Land Owners Restore Rainforests in Sri Lanka) and Jetwing Eco Holidays, the Oxford Brookes team found that monkey numbers are now critically low.

    Western purple faced-leaf monkeys spend a large majority of their time resting and playing on residents' houses
    Western purple faced-leaf monkeys spend a lot of time resting and playing on residents' houses

    Loss of habitat - particularly the high trees that the monkey prefers - has resulted in local extinctions with no chance of re-colonisation and dangerous in-breeding between fragmented populations.

    The monkeys increasingly face being shot as they raid crops and run the risk of electrocution on power lines as they try to make their way through broken-up sections of the forest.

    The study concluded that the monkeys may have to be moved to other areas to survive and that unless a conservation plan is drawn up quickly they are likely to disappear altogether.

    The results will be published shortly in a new book called 'The Primates of Sri Lanka' by KAI Nekaris and Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne.

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