Great apes sliding headlong towards extinction

A A A

Man's closest relatives, the great apes, are on a headlong slide to extinction and the world must act to save them, a coalition of animal conservation groups said yesterday.

Man's closest relatives, the great apes, are on a headlong slide to extinction and the world must act to save them, a coalition of animal conservation groups said yesterday.

Gorillas, orang-utans, chimpanzees and bonobos - or pigmy chimpanzees - will be gone in 20 years or less if present trends of habitat destruction and hunting continue, they said. At most, there may be small, highly protected enclaves of a few animals remaining.

Under the banner of the Ape Alliance, 34 groups ranging from Friends of the Earth and Fauna and Flora International to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund called for Western governments to intervene by helping African and Asian countries to enforce their own wildlife laws. These are being disregarded on an almost universal scale with illegal logging, hunting and invasion of national parks.

Making their plea at a conference in Westminster, they said Britain should take a lead in increasing conservation funding to poor countries, rigorously assessing aid projects to make sure they do not harm wildlife, phasing out the import of tropical timber that has not been harvested in an environmentally friendly manner and encouraging other countries to adopt similar strategies.

The Tory MP Roger Gale, speaking for the all-party animal welfare group, said what was happening was "a catalogue of genocide by multinational consent".

Ian Redmond, chairman of the Ape Alliance, said: "It is crunch time for the great apes.Their populations are being fragmented and wiped out and, apart from a few dedicated individuals, it seems to be going unnoticed by most people."

The world's leading experts on the individual species then offered up a litany of destruction. Dr Jo Thompson, of the Lukuru Wildlife Research Project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), said about the bonobo: "This is the species we are apt to lose first. The entire population of the animal, which is our closest living relative sharing 98.4 per cent of our DNA, is confined to one limited area of the DRC.

"There are very small numbers and the population is fragmented and its entire existence depends on one country which is at war. This species is in tremendous peril and if we don't do something today it will be gone in a few years."

Dr Birute Galdikas, the world expert on orang-utans, told an even more remarkable story of habitat loss in the animals' Indonesian forest home.

"In the last few years several million hectares of primary forest have been converted to palm oil estates, and every single national park has been invaded by illegal loggers and massively logged," she said.

"Twenty years ago the Indonesian government decided it wanted to be the world's leading producer and exporter of plywood and it succeeded. There are vast tracks of tropical rainforest being cut down as timber resources which now go to China, Europe and the US. Unfortunately the orang-utan lives in forests. Unless things change the orang-utan will be extinct within five to ten years."

Dr Trinto Mugangu, adviser to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, said gorillas were facing similar problems of habitat loss and hunting made worse by war. Numbers were falling so low that even if populations revived the gene pool would be too small to be healthy.

Dr Jane Goodall, who for 40 years has studied chimpanzees at Gombe on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, painted a similar picture. Although the chimpanzee was the most adaptable of the great apes, living in open country as well as deep forest, its numbers had gone from nearly 2 million 100 years ago to fewer than 200,000 today and it was rapidly declining.

"Chimpanzees lived in what was Africa's great equatorial forest belt, but it's not a belt anymore, just pockets of shrinking forest areas," she said. The animals suffered from human population pressure, from the world animal trade, from being caught in snares set for other animals, but most of all from hunting for bushmeat - the increasingly popular and commercialised marketing of wild animal flesh.

Hunters now drove up logging trails shooting everything they saw, from birds and bats to elephants, she said. "If things carry on at the present rate in 15 years there will be very, very few chimpanzees left."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen