Saving Our Kin
Primate Conservation Biology. Guy Cowlishaw and Robin Dunbar. xii + 498 pp. University of Chicago Press, 2000. $75 cloth, $27 paper.
The year 2000 witnessed the first recorded extinction of a primate taxon: Miss Waldron's red colobus was pronounced extinct after surveys by J. F. Oates and colleagues in Ghana and on the Ivory Coast failed to find any remaining individuals. Primate populations are threatened by the loss of more than 125,000 square kilometers of forest annually and by extensive commercial and subsistence hunting. Thus it is very encouraging to see a new conservation book focused on this order of mammals.
In the first section of Primate Conservation Biology, authors Guy Cowlishaw and Robin Dunbar review the voluminous literature to provide readers with background information on the basic biology of primates. This is illuminating; readers should come away with an understanding of behavioral ecology, community ecology and population biology that is detailed enough to construct informed management plans. Chapters in the second section discuss the extinction process, analyzing the two main threats primates are facing: habitat disturbance and hunting. In the final section, strategies that have been used to conserve primates are reviewed and critically evaluated.
Included in the extremely detailed literature summaries in every chapter is a considerable amount of useful, difficult-to-find information that has been presented only at scientific meetings or in newsletters. The conservation community is indebted to the authors for their valiant efforts to find such material; often population declines are described at symposia or in newsletters but are not considered sufficiently general to warrant submission to peer-reviewed journals. The chapters are also peppered with statistical analyses that offer insight and reveal generalities.
It would have been nice to see more discussion of how to take a well-thought-out strategy and make it a reality. Field biologists are not trained in this area, but it is critical if we are to see our work used. All too often, the tactics of conservation biologists fail to take into account social or economic realities, or the biologists lack the tools to implement their plans.
This field is in its infancy; there are few detailed descriptions of primates living in disturbed habitats. Primate field researchers have traditionally attempted to find a "pristine" study site, so that observations will represent the animal's natural behavior. The accumulation of more detailed studies in habitats modified by humans will no doubt challenge some of the findings presented in this volume. However, it represents the state of our current understanding and should prove extremely valuable both to the growing number of field biologists addressing issues of primate conservation and to the managers of parks and reserves.
This fine work clearly illustrates that academics have a great opportunity to contribute to primate conservation by documenting patterns of change, understanding cascading effects of primate removal, predicting how different functional guilds will be affected by different types of human activities, understanding mechanisms determining primate abundance and evaluating different conservation approaches. Cowlishaw and Dunbar have provided us with a road map for future investigations and actions. I predict that this book will have a significant impact on primatology and primate conservation.—Colin A. Chapman, Zoology, University of Florida, Gainesville, and Wildlife Conservation Society