Monkey numbers in Latin America have fallen dramatically in recent years as primate hunting reaches unsustainable levels. Most are used for food, but an increasing number of souvenirs are also produced using dead monkeys.
Dozens of primate species are being driven to extinction faster than ever before because of a massive rise in the number of monkeys being killed for food each year.
The authors of a report published this week by the British wildlife charity Care for the Wild International and the German organisation Pro Wildlife claim that the number of primates hunted in Latin America could be as high as 10 million a year. In some parts of the Amazon basin, the numbers of medium and large size primates has dropped by a staggering 93.5 per cent over the last 20 years.
The report concludes that primate populations in 16 of the 22 Latin American countries are under threat, particularly larger species such as woolly, spider, howler and capuchin monkeys. One of the report's authors, Sandra Altherr of Pro Wildlife, said it appeared that the extent of primate hunting in Latin America was higher than in Africa or Asia.
"While the devastating effects of the bush meat trade in Africa continues to hit the headlines, the largely uncontrolled hunting of primates in Central and South America has been all but ignored," Altherr told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "At an international level there is almost no discussion about this problem. We need to change this because the situation is becoming worse."
The report also found that primate hunting in Latin America, once a subsistence-level activity, is becoming increasingly commercialized with traditional hunting methods being replaced by modern weapons.
"Shotguns have a longer range and hit a wider target area than blow pipes and bows and arrows or nets increase the variety of potential target species," Altherr said. "Besides the proliferation of modern weapons, the use of other equipment such as outboard motors, trucks, flashlights and batteries further enhance hunting efficiency."
Smoked and salted primate meat is increasingly being sold at local markets to feed a rising human population in the Amazon basin. Tourist shops in the region are now increasingly selling hats from monkey-skins and necklaces from monkey teeth. In addition a growing number of primates are being killed for so-called 'medicinal' purposes as well as bait for large cats or fish.
The report also claims that the hunting of primates for food rather than habitat loss poses the most serious threat to the survival of large primates in Latin America within the next two decades. As the rain forest is cleared away by loggers, new paths and roads into forest regions allow hunters increasingly easy access to primate breeding grounds.
Primate hunting is already illegal in most Latin American countries, but Altherr said that the authorities in many areas turned a blind eye to the problem.