Environment Forum

Primate spotting: a new brand of eco-tourism?

A Ring Tail lemur sits on a leaf at the Lemurs Park, a private eco-tourism enterprise which hosts nine species, at 22 km (14 miles) from Antananarivo December 5, 2006. The lemurs, which are found only on Madagascar, are an endangered species due mainly to deforestation and hunting in the Indian Ocean island. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti (MADAGASCAR)A scientist who claims the world record for spotting the most types of primates wants more challengers — via a new brand of eco-tourism that might stave off extinction for many apes, monkeys and lemurs.

Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and head of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) primate specialist group, reckons he has seen 350 out of 634 known species and sub-species of primate in the wild.

“There are another couple of people in the running but I think that’s the highest,” Mittermeier, born in 1949, told me of his list compiled over about four decades of work often in the world’s tropical forests.

He said that he was planning to launch a website with the lists of the top experts’ sightings.

“Then people can try to catch us,” he said. RNPS IMAGES OF THE YEAR 2007 - Officials look at four dead mountain gorillas that were illegally killed in the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the week of July 26 in this handout photo released by International Gorilla Conservation Programme on August 10, 2007. The silverback male and three females were shot in the southern sector of the park, which contains more than a fifth of the world’s population of 700 mountain gorillas, according to World Wildlife Fund. REUTERS/Altor Musema/ International Gorilla Conservation Programme, Goma/Handout (DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO)

Eco-tourism to remote jungles could be a way of easing deforestation and human hunting for primate meat, a delicacy in some countries. Almost half the world’s primate species are under threat of extinction because of human activity, according to a report by the IUCN on Tuesday.

Can Indiana Jones help save tigers?

World Bank President Robert Zoellick (L) and actor Harrison Ford take part in the launch of the Tiger Conservation Initiative at the National Zoo in Washington June 9, 2008. The initiative will bring together wildlife experts, scientists and governments to try to halt the killing and thriving illegal trade in tiger skins, meat and body parts used in traditional Asian medicines. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES)Indiana Jones and the World Bank sound like an odd couple to get anything done (“Quick, shoot that robber!” “Wait, we have to do a two-year feasibility study first!”) but are part of a new alliance trying to save the world’s tigers. (Read my colleague Leslie Wroughton’s fine story here)

Will it work? Tigers are under threat from loss of prey and habitats and a black market in tiger skins and bones.

And tiger numbers have plunged to about 4,000 today from more than 100,000 a century ago, according to the new International Tiger Coalition, led by the World Bank with backing from celebrities such as “Indiana Jones” star Harrison Ford, Bo Derek and Robert Duvall. Ford is a board member of Conservation InternationalA tiger at London Zoo peers through the bars of its cage, January 20, before a photo-call arranged to publicise Britain’s role in a global campaign to save the endangered species. Tiger numbers are dwindling worldwide, as the use of tiger parts in traditional Chinese medicine increases. HP