An Introduction to 2001 - An Ape Odyssey

28 September 2000 Ape Alliance News

2001 - An Ape Odyssey

A joint campaign to save the great apes

The dawn of the new millennium does not bode well for our closest relatives in the animal kingdom - the great apes of Africa, Borneo and Sumatra. Without urgent effective action, their evolutionary odyssey will soon end - at the hand of their human cousins.

During the last four decades of the 20th century, scientists gained a greater understanding of apes than ever before. Field researchers entered their world and revealed both their social complexity and their keystone role in the ecology of their habitats. Captive studies demonstrated that apes possess self-awareness, remarkable intelligence and an ability to communicate with signs and symbols. Geneticists startled the world by announcing that chimpanzees and bonobos share 98.4 per cent of our DNA, gorillas 97.7 per cent and orangutans 96.4 per cent.

And yet during the same period, most populations of wild apes declined dramatically. Moreover, the situation is getting worse, not better. Some experts are now predicting extinction over most of their range during the next five to ten years!

Habitat loss, forest fires, logging, hunting for bushmeat and the capture of live infants for sale, have all contributed to this decline. Apes are protected by national law in every country they inhabit, but these laws are poorly enforced in most ape range-states. Even in supposedly protected areas, poaching, illegal logging and mining all impact on vulnerable ape populations. International law is also failing to protect apes. All non-human apes are listed on Appendix I of CITES, which bans international trade for primarily commercial purposes, but the high monetary value which some people attach to captive apes acts as a constant lure to illegal traders and hunters. And the illegal commercial bushmeat trade - a proportion of which involves ape meat - continues largely unchecked within and between neighbouring countries in Africa. Finally, war, civil unrest and a breakdown in law and order have exacerbated the existing problems in several African countries and Indonesia.

There are glimmers of hope. Where ape-tourism has been developed, as with mountain gorillas and some populations of chimpanzees, apes are seen as an important economic resource that can improve the lives of neighbouring human communities. Some timber companies are talking of adopting a Code of Conduct, which would reduce the impact of their activities on wildlife. The US passed a Great Ape Conservation Act in 2000, which will fund some of the initiatives needed. And the newly formed CITES Bushmeat Working Group is now working to bring the international component of the illegal bushmeat trade under control. But the urgency of the situation demands a higher level of action - it is already too late in many areas, where apes are now extinct.

Every local extinction is a loss to humanity, a loss to the local community and an irreparable hole torn in the ecology of the planet.

If we cannot generate a radical increase in efforts to protect apes and their habitats, it will be too late for many more populations of gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans.
This is a call for individual and government action.
How can we look into our cousins’ eyes and say no?

Ian Redmond
Chairman, Ape Alliance

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