Vice-President for Science, World Wildlife Fund/The Conservation Foundation, Washington, D.C.
Much of the early interest in wildlife conservation grew out of a desire to save some of the world’s most spectacular mammals, and to some extent, these so-called charismatic megavertebrates are still the best vehicles for conveying the entire issue of conservation to the public. They are really our flagship species, both here in the United States and in the developing countries, and primates in particular are perhaps the best flagships for tropical forest conservation. Nonhuman primates are of particular interest in this context for three basic reasons: they are of great importance to our own species; they are largely a tropical order, roughly 90% of all primate species being restricted to the tropical forest regions of Asia, Africa, and the Neotropics; and they are members of the elite group called the charismatic megavertebrates.
The threats to primates and their tropical forest habitats can be seen by examining two tropical forest regions: Brazil, particularly the Atlantic forest region of eastern Brazil, and the island of Madagascar. These are clearly two of the most important countries for primate conservation, and they are among the world’s richest countries for living organisms in general—countries that I call the megadiversity countries and that are critical to the survival of the majority of the world’s biological diversity.
Most people are aware of the importance of the Order Primates, which of course includes our own species, Homo sapiens. However, few realize how diverse the Order of Primates actually is, including as it does some 200 species that range from the tiny mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus) of Madagascar and the tarsiers (Tarsius spp.) of Southeast Asia to the great apes, which include our closest living relatives, the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and the pygmy chimpanzee (Pan paniscus). Our