Hunting or habitat degradation? Decline of primate populations in Udzungwa Mountains, Tanzania: An analysis of threats

Hunting and habitat degradation are universal threats to primates across the tropics, thus deciphering the relative impact of threats on population relative abundance is critical to predicting extinction risk and providing conservation recommendations. We studied diurnal primates over a period of nearly 6 years in the Udzungwa Mountains of Tanzania, a site of global importance for primate conservation. We assessed how population relative abundance of five species (of which two are endemic and IUCNEndangered) differed between two forest blocks that are similar in size and habitat types but contrast strongly in protection level, and how abundance changed during 2004–2009. We also measured habitat and disturbance parameters and, in the unprotected forest, evaluated hunting practices. We found significant differences in primates’ abundance between protected and unprotected forests, with the greater contrast being the lower abundance of colobine monkeys (Udzungwa red colobus and Angolan colobus) in the unprotected forest. At this site moreover, colobines declined to near-extinction over the study period. In contrast, two cercopithecines (Sanje mangabey and Sykes’ monkey) showed slightly higher abundance in the unprotected forest and did not decline significantly. We argue that escalating hunting in the unprotected forest has specifically impacted the canopy-dwelling colobus monkeys, although habitat degradation may also have reduced their abundance. In contrast, cercopithecines did not seem affected by the current hunting, and their greater ecological adaptability may explain the relatively higher abundance in the unprotected forest. We provide recommendations towards the long-term protection of the area.