Gorillas [Congo , Uganda, Rwanda]
Orangutans [Borneo, Sumatra Indonesia]
Chimpanzees [central or equatorial Africa to the west, from southern Senegal across the forested belt north of the Congo River to western Uganda and western Tanzania
Monkeys [the tropical rainforests of Africa, Central America, South America and Asia]
Many of us will know well that Primates are the mammals in the World that are the closest biological relatives of us humans, and that is because we share almost the same DNA with them (98.4%) – they include the Great Apes of Gorillas, Orangutans, Chimpanzees, plus Monkeys, and the like [of course there are many species of primates]. We humans indeed are classified also in the sub-group of primates known as the Great Apes, though we have 23 pairs of chromosomes, while chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans have 24.
If we feel an affinity with such ‘wild’ animals it is because in many respects, as a species they are quite like us lot, both in characteristics and behaviours [particularly chimps]. They are highly intelligent, complex and sociable animals, which like us humans have hands with five fingers and flat fingernails (while most other animals have claws), possess full colour vision, and they also live in thriving established communities where essential bonds are formed through grooming, playing, fighting and foraging – so these primates are like us in their dislike of living solitary lives or being alone.
However, about 90% of primates live in tropical forests, where they play an integral role in the ecology of their habitat, as they help the forest by being pollinators, seed predators, and seed dispersers. So, basically those primates aren’t around us here in the affluent West, but their very existence elsewhere is nowadays threatened by us humans’ destruction of their forest home combined with exploitation by commercial hunting for food and medicine, plus commercial trade as pets.
The alarming rate of worldwide tropical forest destruction is estimated to be 200 acres PER MINUTE. Incredibly, over 40% of the 234-primate species are threatened with extinction, with 13 of these species now critically endangered – which means they will simply disappear within the next five years if greater efforts aren’t made to protect them.
Nevertheless, here in the UK we ourselves are not squeaky clean, nor guilty free of culpability in this impending catastrophe facing these creatures of a fellow species, are we? No, and that is self-evident on a number of fronts, isn’t it?
First, apart from the glaring fact that we ourselves are doing virtually NOTHING about it, there is the unacceptable incentive we are giving those producers of the termed “dirty palm oil” who are intent on destroying the lush, green rainforests (incorporating crucial precious habitats), some seven thousand miles away, in say Borneo and Indonesia, which consequently are progressively simply wiping out orangutans (the ‘red ape’) and which over the last fifty years are being killed as well as being forced from their home – 100,000 Bornean orangutans have been lost in the past 16 years alone, while three species [Bornean, Sumatran and the Tapanuli] are now on the critically endangered list. The reason basically started back in the 1960s when the Indonesian forests were logged for timber, but now it’s for palm oil.
[The Indonesian government is even boasting about a projected increase in palm oil production from 36.5m tonnes in 2017 to over 42m tonnes by 2020]
Not only does the World face losing forever a beautiful species, but the indigenous poor peoples there, will lose their homes and livelihoods as well, and all down to the forces of greed and for the benefit of the undeserving.
Oh yes, and it’s not just orangutans [meaning “man of the forest”] that are threatened. More than seventy percent of Sumatran elephant habitat has been destroyed within one generation, and there are fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos left in the wild. People are part of this conflict too with land grabbing and exploitation of workers, including the endemic use of child labour. Decades of deforestation for palm oil have created conditions ideal for furious forest and peatland fires, when these, habitually deliberately started fires by companies clearing the land, threaten the health of people across southeast Asia and drive climate change
Is this really the kind of selfish society we British support or have become ourselves and does that represent the real personal values we now hold deep in our society?
You see palm oil, in addition to its common use as a frying oil, has over the last half decade become the world’s most versatile raw material, and you will see it listed as an ingredient in at least half of the products on supermarket shelves, including food and non-food items, and it is widely used a vast range of other products, but there is no law requiring it to be shown for products such as soap, shampoo and other cosmetics [the global demand for palm oil has increased six-fold in under thirty years].
Many here in the UK have been surprised and shocked that a 90 second animated TV Christmas commercial by the Iceland supermarket which highlighted the current dire plight of orangutans, resulting from palm oil production having devastating impacts on wildlife and tropical forests, had that banned here by the authorities as being ‘too political’ – well nevertheless the bleeding message DID get across with a vengeance, as the ad went viral and over a million people signed a petition to overturn the ban [In response to the palm oil industry’s catastrophic failure to halt deforestation and deal with the problem the commercial ends with: “Dedicated to the 25 orangutans we lose every day”]
While possible millions of people worldwide have told the big brands to drop their ‘dirty palm oil’, these money-grabbing multinationals’ promises [brands like Unilever, Mondelez, Nestlé Pepsico, Mars] to do so have proved deceitfully false. The answer is for all us caring and ‘responsible’ consumers to reject their products and even though it may seem extreme, to TRY to avoid buying ANYTHING that lists palm-oil as an ingredient, eh?
In Britain, surely we should NOT fail to feel some sense of responsibility for the desperate situation faced by Indonesia’s orangutans, who are extraordinary creatures and one of our closest relatives, and who’s obliteration is being orchestrated purely by the obsessive desire of profits to be extracted by the elite from cheaper palm oil?
The similarity of orangutans to us is astonishing, as they are among the most intelligent ‘non-human’ primates who certainly have the human ability to figure out things, and they are inquisitive, smile, show empathy, and like us even laugh when tickled.
Interestingly, a study a decade ago found that humans share at least 28 unique ‘physical’ characteristics with orangutans, that included thickly enamelled molar teeth with flat surfaces, greater asymmetries between the left and right side of the brain, an increased cartilage-to-bone ratio in the forearm, and similarly shaped shoulder blades, a hole in the roof of the mouth that was supposedly unique to humans is also present in orangutans. Humans and orangutans have the widest-separated mammary glands, and they grow the longest hair and they actually have a hairline, in contrast to virtually all primates where the hair comes down to the top of the eyes. The claim is that they are the closest living relatives to humans! Will such findings aid efforts to protect the species from extinction at a time when only an estimated 100,000 Bornean and 7,000 Sumatran orangutans remain in the wild [that reduction crisis simply because their numbers have been decimated as a result of deforestation]?
Another area of our Country’s culpability in its disgraceful abject failure to prevent abuse of primates in captivity, and that comes with a specific focus on ending the primate pet trade in the UK. We urgently need to implement changes in the law to put a stop to current practices that allow intelligent, socially complex wild animals to be kept captive or as pets, when they are inherently unsuitable for keeping in a domestic setting. They are currently afforded very little protection under UK law and what protection does exist is often flouted or ignored, which seriously compromises the welfare of individual primates.
The existence of a legal trade in primates in places like the UK has a directly and extremely negative impact on wild populations of primates, through their capture for sale to people from here as pets, while even critically endangered species [such as for example cotton-top tamarins] continue to be traded as pets without regulation in the UK]
Because there is either no or very little controls of the primate pet trade, nobody actually knows how many primates are held captive today in the UK, but shockingly there are probably at least 5,000 of them now kept by private individuals. Undoubtably, this is a situation where there is a tragic lack of adequate species knowledge, veterinary care, social opportunity, space, which coupled with debilitating poor diet leads to mental, physical and emotional suffering for such pet primates, as is witnessed by those organisations who rescue some of them [more than eighty percent of all rescued primates residing at one UK Sanctuary were either improperly licensed or not licensed at all as pets – that simply highlights the utter lack of government control over this disgusting trade, doesn’t it?].
Oh yes, when it comes to primates, we only pay lip-service to our Country’s stated obligations to the 5 Freedoms that all animals in captivity should have – that is Freedom from hunger and thirst coupled with a good diet of nutritious and beneficial foods, Freedom from discomfort meaning being kept in a comfortable environment, Freedom from pain, injury or disease and having access to high quality veterinary care at short notice, Freedom to express normal behaviour so animals are given the space and freedom to interact as they would in the wild, with other animals of their own kind to live with, and enrichments to maintain wild behaviour, Freedom from fear and distress and ensuring positive conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.
WELL YOU BLOODY WELL DON’T GET ANY OF THAT WHEN A PRIMATE IS CAGED-UP IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT AS A ‘TROPHY’ PET BY AN INEXPERIENCED AND UNKNOWLEDGEABLE INDIVIDUAL, do you eh?
[The ‘Five Freedoms’ were developed in response to a 1965 UK Government report on livestock husbandry, and were formalised in 1979 press statement by the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council and have been adopted by professional groups including veterinarians, and organizations including the World Organisation for Animal Health, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals]
In the rain forests it is the monkeys that are often a hunter’s main target, because they are the largest daytime mammal that is easy to detect and shoot. Females with infants are the preferred quarry, and their loss hastens population decline. Mothers are killed and babies are abducted for sale to the pet trade or use in tourism photoshoots, when these animals are regularly abused, teeth extracted, beaten and cowed, or drugged.
Marmosets Capuchin Squirrel Monkey
The most popular primates that are kept and traded as pets are Marmosets, followed by Capuchins and Squirrel Monkeys, yet all of them being highly intelligent, complex and sociable wild animals, they just cannot adapt to being kept as pets. It is impossible to meet their needs in a household environment, particularly as a primate cannot engage with its natural instincts as a pet and whatever an owner may intend, their welfare needs cannot be met.
[A Dangerous Wild Animal licence is required for selected primates like Capuchins but the licence is non-species specific and is issued by officials who have little or no understanding of primates, while neither Marmosets nor Squirrel monkeys require any kind of licencing).
Despite the fact that no primate should be kept alone, the RSPCA has found that in 60% of the cases they have investigated, the primate is being kept alone and in isolation. The lack of vitamin D from natural sunlight and the right diet can result in skeletal diseases and there is a risk of certain diseases spreading between owner, other house pets and primates
[Britain needs to end the trade & keeping of primates as pets and the UK government must ban it NOW, and follow the example of some 15 countries in the EU that have already introduced a ban on all or at least most primates being kept as pets].