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A primate is a member of the biological order Primates, the group that contains lemurs, the aye-aye, lorisids, galagos, tarsiers, monkeys, and apes, with the last category including great apes. With the exception of humans, who inhabit every continent on Earth, most primates live in tropical or subtropical regions of the Americas, Africa and Asia. Primates range in size from the 30-gram (1 oz) pygmy mouse lemur to the 200-kilogram (440 lb) mountain gorilla. According to fossil evidence, the primitive ancestors of primates may have existed in the late Cretaceous period around 65 mya (million years ago), and the oldest known primate is the Late Paleocene Plesiadapis, c. 55–58 mya. Molecular clock studies suggest that the primate branch may be even older, originating in the mid-Cretaceous period around 85 mya.

Primates exhibit a wide range of characteristics. Some primates do not live primarily in trees, but all species possess adaptations for climbing trees. Locomotion techniques used include leaping from tree to tree, walking on two or four limbs, knuckle-walking, and swinging between branches of trees (known as brachiation). Primates are characterized by their large brains relative to other mammals. These features are most significant in monkeys and apes, and noticeably less so in lorises and lemurs. Many species are sexually dimorphic, which means males and females have different physical traits, including body mass, canine tooth size, and coloration.

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Humans are bipedal primates belonging to the species Homo sapiens (Latin: "wise man" or "knowing man") in Hominidae, the great ape family. They are the only surviving member of the genus Homo. Humans have a highly developed brain, capable of abstract reasoning, language, introspection, and problem solving. This mental capability, combined with an erect body carriage that frees the arms for manipulating objects, has allowed humans to make far greater use of tools than any other species. Mitochondrial DNA and fossil evidence indicates that modern humans originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago. Humans now inhabit every continent and low Earth orbit, with a total population of over 6.7 billion as of September 2009.

Like most higher primates, humans are social by nature. However, humans are uniquely adept at utilizing systems of communication for self-expression, the exchange of ideas, and organization. Humans create complex social structures composed of many cooperating and competing groups, from families to nations. Social interactions between humans have established an extremely wide variety of values, social norms, and rituals, which together form the basis of human society. Humans have a marked appreciation for beauty and aesthetics which, combined with the human desire for self-expression, has led to cultural innovations such as art, literature and music. Humans are noted for their desire to understand and influence their environment, seeking to explain and manipulate natural phenomena through science, philosophy, mythology and religion. This natural curiosity has led to the development of advanced tools and skills, which are passed down culturally; humans are the only extant species known to build fires, cook their food, clothe themselves, and use numerous other technologies.

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The ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) is a large strepsirrhine primate and the most recognized lemur due to its long, black and white ringed tail. It belongs to Lemuridae, one of five lemur families, and is the only member of the Lemur genus. Like all lemurs it is endemic to the island of Madagascar. Known locally in Malagasy as maky (spelled maki in French) or hira, it inhabits gallery forests to spiny scrub in the southern regions of the island. It is omnivorous and the most terrestrial of lemurs. The animal is diurnal, being active exclusively in daylight hours.

Primates News

Archives: 2009

2009

August

  • August 4 - Orangutans may be going deep to deter predators, and some are even using tools to sound more intimidating, a new study says. Read more
  • August 3 - The most malignant known form of malaria may have jumped from chimpanzees to humans, according to a new study of one of the most deadly diseases in the world. Read more

July

  • July 28 - Mani the monkey uses her own mysterious methods to tend dozens of goats without any supervision or training, according to the Associated Press. Read more
  • July 8 - Monkeys can form sentences and speak in accents—and now a new study shows that our genetic relatives can also recognize poor grammar. Read more

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Nycticebus javanicus (Javan slow loris)
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Endangered (IUCN 3.1)|Endangered

The Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus) is a strepsirrhine primate and a species of slow loris native to the western and central portions of the island of Java, in Indonesia. For many years, it was considered a subspecies of the Sunda slow loris (N. coucang), until the 2000s when it was promoted to full species status. It is most closely related to the Sunda slow loris and the Bengal slow loris (N. bengalensis). The species has two forms, based on hair length and, to a lesser extent, coloration. Its forehead has a prominent white diamond pattern, which is formed by a distinct stripe that runs over its head and forks towards the eyes and ears. The Javan slow loris weighs between 565–687 g (1.25–1.51 lb) and has a head-body length of about 293 mm (11.5 in). Like all lorises, it is arboreal and moves slowly across vines and lianas instead of jumping from tree to tree. Its diet typically consists of fruit, tree gum, lizards and eggs. It sleeps on exposed branches, sometimes in groups, and is usually seen alone or in pairs.

The Javan slow loris population is in sharp decline due to poaching for the exotic pet trade. It is also used in research associated with traditional medicine. Remaining populations have low densities, and habitat loss is a major threat. For these reasons, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists its status as "endangered," and it has also been included on the 2008–2010 list of "The World's 25 Most Endangered Primates." It is protected by Indonesian law and, since June 2007, is listed under CITES Appendix I. Despite these protections, as well as its presence in several protected areas, poaching is still incessant and the wildlife protection laws are rarely enforced at the local level.

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