By John R. Platt
Primates don’t get much more spectacular than the furry, short-tailed, long-faced, pink-rumped monkeys known as drills (Mandrillus leucophaeus). But despite their striking looks, drills—which are closely related to gibbons and the even more wildly colored, blue-faced mandrills (M. sphinx)—have not fared well in the wild over the past few decades. Drills have become one of the most endangered primate species in Africa, with an estimated population as low as 3,000 animals. Now new research shows that drills have been hunted and pushed out of most of their historic habitat, leaving few remaining territories where they can safely thrive. The study, published in the April 2013 issue of the International Journal of Primatology, suggests that active conservation may be necessary to safeguard the remaining drill habitats and keep the species from extinction.
According to the study, 80 percent of the world’s remaining drills live in Cameroon. Unfortunately for the primates, Cameroon’s human population has surged from 15.4 million in 2000 to more than 20 million in 2012. Meanwhile its economy has also grown, especially in the areas of palm oil plantations and oil exploration. That rapid expansion has put the squeeze on drills and their habitats.
The researchers—from the Zoological Society of San Diego and other institutions—divided the drill’s historic habitat in Cameroon into 52 zones, then conducted field surveys and village interviews to find out where drills remained. The results were not encouraging—the researchers only found direct evidence of drills in 16 zones. They also ranked each zone for its suitability to sustain drill populations, and those results were even worse. Only four sites ranked highly on their scale, indicating that they had the high levels of tree cover, less hunting, more law enforcement and more local recognition that drills are a protected species under Cameroonian law. The four sites also had populations of chimpanzees and elephants, indicating that the government would be more inclined to stop poaching in those regions. More....