Woohoo! December is here, you know what that means don’t you? Noooo, not Christmas - Monkey Day! December 14th marks Monkey Day and because we love monkeys (who doesn’t, really?), we thought it was only right to have a little chat about Monkey Day and what it’s all about. So, let’s dive in.
Well first of all, Monkey Day was established in quite a different way to what we might be used to. Instead of being created by an animal charity or as part of a governmental policy, it was started by Casey Sorrow, a then-art student at Michigan State University. Filling in December 14th on his friend’s calendar as ‘Monkey Day’ as a prank, they decided to celebrate their ‘made-up’ holiday, and spread their love of monkeys around their campus (disclaimer: alcohol may have been a factor in the creation of Monkey Day!)
And so, Sorrow inadvertently created Monkey Day and despite its humble and accidental beginnings, it has been celebrated for the past 17 years across the globe. On the official Monkey Day website, Sorrow outlined the reasons for why we should celebrate all things monkey, and his answer is straight to the point – ‘why not?’ We think that’s as good a reason as any, although there are loads of reasons why you should get involved with raising awareness about the marvelous monkeys that roam our planet!
First of all, I’ve got five fabulous facts about monkeys to share with you all. Are you ready?
So, we know how Monkey Day started, and we’ve covered a few facts about monkeys in general, but why is it important to celebrate Monkey Day? Well, in simple terms, monkeys need our help. What started out as a fun celebration of these majestic creatures has evolved into something more important: a way of raising awareness. Now, just so you guys know, Monkey Day is an umbrella term for all primates, so for the purposes of raising awareness and education, it also includes other primates such as apes, gibbons and lemurs.
So first things first, a shocking 60 per cent of primate species is in serious danger of extinction and a further 75 per cent have a declining population. But why? Well, as is the case with many other endangered animals, one of the main reasons is agricultural growth. Agricultural growth has come about by the increase of the ‘need’ for land for endeavours such as palm oil plantations, oil and gas drilling, logging, mining and rubber plantations. The creation of these has led to large-scale habitat loss, and has devastated both the local and global environment in which monkeys live in. To put it into perspective, between 1990-2010, 1.5 square kilometres of primate regions (Neotropics, Africa and Southeast Asia) has been decimated due to agricultural expansion. That is three times the size of France. If this wasn’t enough, forest cover loss has been estimated at a loss of 2 million square kilometres.
In the past ten or so years, there has been a huge demand for palm oil, and this demand is rising. It is the most widely used vegetable oil on the planet, though many people have no idea that they’re consuming it. It is used in a huge variety of products, from lipstick to pizza dough, to ice-cream and soap. According to the WWF, it is found in around half of supermarket products. So it’s easy to see why palm oil plantations are both lucrative and constantly expanding. The demand for palm oil has contributed to a major decline in Sumatran and Bornean orangutan levels alone, and shows no sign of slowing down. If unsustainable palm oil production continues, we will undoubtedly see the numbers of other species continue to decline, particularly in South America and Africa.
Unfortunately, the issues don’t stop with palm oil. Mining for diamonds and minerals has also become a major issue, as despite its small area, ‘Mining contributes to deforestation, forest degradation, and the pollution and poisoning of streams and soil’. This in turn obviously leads to habitat loss, and the decline of our beautiful primate population. For example, in Central Africa, the population of apes depends heavily on if it resides in a mined or unmined forest - an average of only 75 ape nests reside in a mined area, in comparison to an average of 234 in an unmined area. In addition to the above, the mining of zinc and copper in Peru has put the ‘yellow-tailed woolly monkey’ at an even bigger risk. Already classified as one of the world’s most endangered primates, it is estimated that there are only approximately 250 left in the wild. This number will almost certainly decrease if things continue as they are. A combination of growing human population, unsustainable development, environmental degradation and extremely low conservation efforts means that this monkey in particular is in serious danger.
Now, as mentioned earlier, forests are becoming less dense and more sparse due to these practices. ‘Long-term deforestation has resulted in the fragmentation of 58% of subtropical and 46% of tropical forests’, and this has led to more than just a loss of habitat. Several species such as the Udzungwa red colobus monkeys and the Northern muriqui have been victims of both declining population and loss of genetic diversity. In addition to this, they are also facing nutritional deficits and an increased exposure to disease due to increased contact with humans, therefore becoming subjected to new bacteria and viruses. This is particularly worrying as humans and primates share a close phylogenetic relationship, meaning that the spread of disease (such as Ebola, Influenza, SARS etc.) is not difficult. It is no secret that the HIV epidemic was spread from primates to humans, due to the human consumption of bush meat, and this swiftly brings us onto the next issue that is threatening our primates – hunting.
Hunting is still an issue for monkeys (and primates) all over the world, with their meat being highly sought after. The hunting and consumption of bush meat is a major issue, due to both its role in the steep decline of several species of primate and its contribution to spreading disease. A prime example of this takes place on Bioko Island off the coast of Cameroon. This is where a high proportion of red colobus monkeys reside, or rather, did reside. Bush meat (and in particular monkey meat) is for some reason considered a luxury item, which has given it an extremely high price point. The inflation is high on the island due to the oil industry, and with that comes a symbol of status. Despite monkey meat being banned for obvious reasons, it is considered a delicacy and as always, demand drives the supply and according to the Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program around approximately 50,000 monkey carcasses have been sold over the past 15 years. Due to the near-constant hunting, monkeys have almost been wiped off the island and there aren’t too many left. This is mainly due to their inconspicuousness - when confronted they literally shriek and stubbornly stay put – making them a very easy target for hunters.
It’s not just Bioko Island that has been hit hard however. Both Liberia and Cote D’Ivoire’s primates have had struggles with an escalating bush meat trade in combination with continued deforestation. A host of surveys into a local market known for selling bush meat was conducted over eight days and from the results it was estimated that around 9,464 primates are sold there every single year. If rates continued like this for the foreseeable future, it would amount to a three per cent decline of primates in the area every single year. In addition to this, it was discovered that approximately 150,000 primate carcasses from 16 species were sold for bush meat at 89 different markets in Nigeria and Cameroon in just one year.
The shocking figures do not limit themselves to the bush meat trade however. Other markets such as medicine, pets, biomedical research and folklore are lucrative, and are on the rise. In 2016 a social media craze took hold and this time it wasn’t the micro pig that did it. 2016, (the Chinese zodiac Year of the Monkey) brought about a literal manifestation in the form of the Pygmy Marmoset. These very cute creatures sparked a social media mania, and were selling for around $4000 each in countries such as China. According to the American Journal of Primatology, hundreds of thousands of primates are trafficked annually in Peru alone, and the second most common of the primates in question was the pygmy marmoset. This is an upsetting figure, as despite its illegality, money talks and unless something is done globally the illegal pet trade looks set to continue.
So it is obvious why these magnificent monkeys need our help, as without it numbers are pretty much guaranteed to decline over the next century due to all these factors. When these factors are combined (which many are) it makes for a terrifying notion. Monkeys and primates are vital to our planet and its ecology, history and culture. As mentioned previously, monkeys are significant in many cultures and play a vital role in their local economies, such as monkey shrines and temples – like that of the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Bali. This is very important to both the local culture and economy, and they bring in lots of tourists every year. Without the monkeys, tourism, and consequently the local economy, suffers.
Their ecological importance cannot be underestimated either. Primates are vital to the food chain, as they are both prey and predators. A little known fact is that many primates are pollinators due to their dispersal of seeds over large distances. Without this pollination, several tree and plant species are likely to decline. An example of this takes place in Southern Nigeria, where the locals rely on the gathering of primate-dispersed fruit and seeds, without it they would struggle massively.
And unsurprisingly, primates are extremely important and valuable to medical research. Whilst it can be debated for ethical reasons, it is no surprise that primates have furthered our knowledge on a number of things such as ‘respiratory diseases, HIV/AIDS, treatment responses to psychoactive drugs, psychopathologies, sociality, mental health disorders, communication, immunology, brain functioning, pharmacology, endocrine regulation of reproduction, genetics etc.’. Primates are literally invaluable to contributing to our understanding of so many things from our health to our social norms. The world would be a bare and barren place without them, and it is imperative that we make a change and turn their fortune around.
So, I hope I’ve persuaded you that monkeys really do need our help, and without it they’re in serious danger of one day disappearing. This makes me shiver, because it is easy to see that without them, our world wouldn’t be the same. So what can we do to help? Well, there are loads of things we can do! First up:
So that’s it folks! I hope you’ve enjoyed this one; it’s been lengthy but for good reason. Our precious primates are declining, and we believe it’s our social responsibility to help wherever and whenever we can! So please try and do at least one of the above, and try to make a difference.
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