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CNN Today

Primates Face Threat of Extinction in 21st Century

Aired January 10, 2000 - 2:44 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Conservationists are warning the 21st century could see dozens of humankind's closest relatives die off. Conservation International lists 25 primates today that are near extinction.

Here's CNN's environment correspondent Natalie Pawelski.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NATALIE PAWELSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From tiny golden lion tamarinds to the world's largest living primate, the mountain gorilla, many of humanity's closest cousins are in trouble. A new study identifies 25 of the world's most endangered primates, including the Sumatran orangutan, the yellow-tailed woolly monkey, and several kinds of lemur.

ROSS MITTERMEIER, CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL: We have identified here the top 25 that are considered critically endangered. And these are really the tip of the iceberg. These are the animals that are down to a few hundred, at most a few thousand individuals. And in a few cases we're down to probably a few dozen individuals.

PAWELSKI: The main threat to these species: the destruction of tropical forests, cut for timber or cleared for settlement.

Another problem: the growing bush meat trade, where wild animals, even endangered ones, are sold for food.

Despite these pressures, researchers say, not one species of primate went extinct in the 20th century. But at the dawn of the 21st century, about one in five primate species is in danger of dying out.

MITTERMEIER: About 20 percent are in some danger of going extinct over the next two to three decades. So this is a significant amount. One in five species could disappear in our lifetimes.

PAWELSKI: Most of the endangered apes, monkeys, lemurs and other primates are found in hot spots of biodiversity, ecosystems around the globe that harbor more than their share of plant and animal species.

Many of these places, from the Amazon rainforest to the African island of Madagascar, are themselves endangered. The next century could see the survival of these places and the species that live there either safeguarded or doomed. Natalie Pawelski, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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