Letters: Saving the great apes

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The Independent Online

Each of us must take up the challenge of saving the great apes

Sir: Your substantial and well-informed front-page article "World's last chance to save great apes " (12 September) sets before us the scale and importance of the challenge we face.

In the past great ape conservation has been characterised by widespread public interest and concern but less enthusiasm at a political and inter-governmental level. Further, the public have become frustrated watching great ape populations slide inexorably towards extinction throughout much of their historic range. Many have asked why "they" (whoever they are ) are not doing something about it.

The truth is, as the Kinshasa Declaration, so carefully crafted at the Great Ape Survival Project meeting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo last Friday makes patently clear, that from now on there is no "them", there is only "us". If we each in our own way, whether we be governments, non-government organisations, scientists, commercial companies or citizens, engage in this - perhaps the single greatest species conservation challenge of our time - then the great apes will survive.

If we do not then our inability to protect our closest relatives will simply have demonstrated our failure as a species to think of anyone but ourselves. All life on earth will follow the orangutan, the gorilla, the chimpanzee and the bonobo into oblivion. We will simply be left alone on the planet of the Ape.

WILL TRAVERS

CHIEF EXECUTIVE, BORN FREE FOUNDATION HORSHAM, WEST SUSSEX

Sir: Thank you for your coverage of the deteriorating circumstances of great apes in the wild, and the breakthrough Kinshasa Declaration designed to help save them. The threats to these species and their tropical forest homes are abundant, diverse, and potent, and the scale of consistent, long-term effort needed to address them should not be under-estimated.

As Kofi Annan observed in his Foreword to the World Atlas of Great Apes and their Conservation, "We need governments and companies to 'adopt' them and the places where they live." This means that our institutions must be prepared to commit reliable, directed investment over decades, to do "whatever it takes" to ensure that particular species or populations will be safe far into the future.

The UK Government has proven a reliable friend to the great apes, but now there is a need for a new level of policy. We, as a nation, should adopt one or more of these species, and structure our investments, aid programmes, partnerships and lobbying activities around their survival in the wild, not just for a year or two but indefinitely. Perhaps following this example other countries will likewise adopt other species, and the threat of extinction can systematically be lifted from these close relatives of ours.

JULIAN CALDECOTT

DONHEAD ST ANDREW, WILTSHIRE
THE WRITER IS CO-EDITOR OF THE WORLD ATLAS OF GREAT APES AND THEIR CONSERVATION AND A SIGNATORY OF THE KINSHASA DECLARATION ON BEHALF OF UNEP WORLD CONSERVATION MONITORING CENTRE, CAMBRIDGE

Peak oil: only answer is to cut demand

Sir: Your article on peak oil ("When the oil runs out", 13 September) was most timely.

Coincidentally, Gordon Brown has sought to alleviate the problem of demand for this precious resource exceeding its supply by urging Opec to turn on the taps, but this is short-sighted in the extreme. One day, when we've used about half of it, the flow of oil will begin to decrease of its own accord, and there's nothing that he, Jeremy Clarkson or anyone else will be able to do about it.

Nobody seems to know when this will happen, largely because the facts about reserves that would allow a rational assessment are guarded as state secrets, but within a few years seems plausible. At the same time, hundreds of millions of people in countries such as India and China will be staking their claims to live like we do, and the ever-diminishing supply will be directed into the tanks of the highest bidders. At this point we will be looking back at a pound a litre like we look back at house prices from the 1970s.

Peak oil looks to me like a bigger story than terrorism, global warming, possibly even cricket. Security of supply, if it can be achieved at all, will be temporary. The right response from government is not to bully other nations in the hope of increasing production, but to work with quiet determination to reduce demand at home. Tax to the hilt oil (and its derivatives), put the revenue into alternatives, and tell the fuel protesters where to get off.

ANDREW BERRINGTON

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE

Sir: Is it not time for President Bush and Tony Blair to start thinking about completely removing tax on biofuels and encouraging the production of ethanol (from sugar), biodiesel or even the famous "chip pan waste" fuel derived from cooking oil.

These sustainable fuels are not only more efficient than petrol but also cleaner. Their widespread use could also ease geopolitical tension and dependence on the Middle East while providing a lucrative income for farmers who are being crippled by rising fuel costs and the end of agricultural aid.

Biofuel production is growing rapidly in the US, Australia and Brazil, where groups of farmers have set up their own refineries.

RUPERT EDEN

MADRID

Sir: I am about to lead a protest because I am unhappy with something or other. I therefore intend to mount a blockade of all farmers' gates and road haulage companies' entrances. Anyone who feels slightly aggrieved about anything at all is welcome to join me. This should lead to panic buying of chicken legs. So be warned: get out and buy as many chicken legs as you can before the panic buying begins.

S STOCKFORD

RHOS ON SEA, CONWY

New homes plan risks disaster

Sir: The use of statistics by Housing and Planning Minister Yvette Cooper (letter, 12 September) is highly questionable, because she compares chalk with cheese - the total number of households with the rate at which new homes are built. Her own department's statistics show that over the past 30 years the total stock of homes in England has kept up with the total number of households. We are actually building slightly more market homes for sale now than we were 30 years ago, but construction of affordable, Government-subsidised homes in England is 87 per cent less than it was back in 1975.

The Government's strategy is to give market forces a far stronger role in the planning process, in the hope that this will lead to more land being released, more market homes built and house price rises abated. We argue that such an approach will damage the environment and countryside, make very little difference to house prices and still leave those most in need of decent homes priced out of the market.

If housebuilding is to increase further, the focus should be on subsidised, affordable housing, and on new homes built to regenerate our existing towns and reduce widening disparities in wealth between England's regions. Housebuilding has increased substantially in recent years. The massive increases in market housing envisaged by Kate Barker's report and now, it appears, the minister, would be disastrous.

SHAUN SPIERS

CHIEF EXECUTIVE, CAMPAIGN TO PROTECT RURAL ENGLAND LONDON SE1

Perverse obstacles to literacy

Sir: The few English sounds which are pronounced differently by different speakers are nearly all linked to spellings for which English has no reliable pronunciation, e g plants/pants, spook/book, put/cut, cloth /both. These could be a problem for spelling reform (letter, 8 September ) if its aim was to make English spelling totally phonic. It would, however, be possible to reduce our levels of dyslexia very substantially with more moderate and totally unproblematic changes.

Most reading problems for young children stem from just 200 frequently used words which have quirky spellings that could be easily amended, e g friend, head, beautiful. Many of them need only shed surplus letters to restore them to more phonemic spellings, e g early, earth, learn, build, touch.

The spellings of names, especially of foreign origin, like my Masha of Russian descent, can await repair until more serious impediments to literacy have been tackled. But I would promptly change its spelling to Marsha if this would help to bring about more general improvements to English spelling. I hate seeing successive generations of children having reading problems simply because we refuse to mend any of our perverse spellings.

MASHA BELL

WAREHAM, DORSET

Sir: Atefr all the crrsepoonnedce on spllenig, I souhld piont out taht in odrer for the hmuan barin to rcegonsie a wrod in cnotxet, olny the frsit and lsat ltteers need be in palce. All the rset can be jmulbed up. Tihs is a vrey criuuos pysohccloigal fcat.

JADE STARMORE

STORNOWAY, WESTERN ISLES

One Tory sees sense on drugs

Sir: Tory hopeful David Cameron has been caught in possession of the intelligent idea that British drugs laws are killing people ("Tory contender calls for more liberal drug laws", 7 September).

Before we adopted the harshest drugs laws in Europe in 1971, we had fewer than 1,000 addicts and virtually no drug crime. Now we have 280,000 addicts and the worst drug problems in Europe. After 25 years of drugs decriminalisation Holland has less the half UK's drug abuse. Portugal decriminalised for personal use in 2001 and cut drug deaths by half.

Why repeat our own mistakes when we can copy the reductions in harm of Holland and Portugal. Will David Cameron persuade his party to see sense?

PAUL FLYNN MP

(NEWPORT W, LAB) VICE CHAIR, COMMONS DRUGS MISUSE GROUP

Pride of cricket and shame of football

Sir: On leaving Loftus Road on Tuesday night following the match between QPR and Luton Town, I was disgusted by the sickening, racist slurs made by my fellow supporters towards the police outside the ground. The police chose to ignore the abuse and turn their gaze away.

Having become addicted to the Ashes over the last few weeks, I have enjoyed watching the way in which English and Australian supporters have sat with each other, drunk with each other and cheered with each other. What I witnessed yesterday reminded me how far football fans have to come. Maybe the police will choose to look the other way, but football clubs certainly should not. It is their responsibility to ban these thugs from our beautiful game.

NIKKI GINSBERG

LONDON NW1

Sir: To all those who have been expressing shame at partisan English crowds during this summer's extraordinary Ashes series, I would ask, "Were you there?"

The banter between the crowd and the players is part of Ashes cricket, and I witnessed nothing that crossed the line between good humour and bad sportsmanship. The moment when England fans raised umbrellas as their counterparts stripped off their shirts in mock attempts to sway the umpires merely exemplified the carnival atmosphere. This was high drama, pantomime and comedy all rolled into one, and I can't imagine anyone that was there would disagree.

Everyone was determined to revel in the magic, come rain or shine, and that's what we did.

TOM KENNEDY

BRENTFORD, MIDDLESEX

Sir: So it's goodbye to free-to-air cricket and hello to proper coverage. It is sad that the wonderful scenes we have watched this summer will, in future, only be seen live by a minority of subscribers. But if this means uninterrupted cricket, then I am happy to be one of them.

Channel 4, and the BBC before them, could not decide whether they were showing cricket or horse racing on a Saturday afternoon. They appeared to be under the impression that a bunch of nags trotting round a field qualified as sport. I would have though such a decision, especially this summer, would be a no-brainer. Can you imagine either of them switching midway through a Wimbledon final, for example, to show the 3:45 from Goodwood?

We should not begrudge Sky Sports these broadcasting rights. They have shown the winter tours for years, when free-to-air broadcasting would not. So let's hear from no more whingeing poms, such as Martin Hills (Letters, 14 September), about Mr Murdoch's latest acquisition.

JONATHAN FAIRCLOUGH

BILLERICAY, ESSEX

Welcome to Britain

Sir: Recent correspondence has reminded me of the modus operandi of the immigration service as explained to me some years ago by an immigration officer friend. "If they're white they're all right; if they're brown they sit down; if they're black they go back."

GORDON YOUNG

SWINDON WILTSHIRE

Men of the West

Sir: David Thomson ("Who are you calling Butch", 13 September), while mentioning the "You show me yours and I'll show you mine" scene in Red River, misses the bit where John Wayne says to Joanne Dru, "When did you fall in love with him?" (Montgomery Clift), and she snaps back "When did you?" The look on the Duke's face suggests he knew exactly what was being implied.

DES MOGG

BARNET, HERTFORDSHIRE

Disgusted

Sir: I would like to assure readers that not everybody in Tunbridge wells shares Maxwell M's backward and, frankly, offensive views regarding ethnic minorities (Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, 12 September). If having "English roots" means being seen as anything like Maxwell, well "by golly" I'd rather not be English at all. I'm off to university in Birmingham, and look forward to meeting people of different backgrounds.

LIZZY WOODFIELD

TUNBRIDGE WELLS, KENT

Failing seam

Sir: Tom Elliott suggests rock music composition is like mining a seam of gold and classical music composition is like cultivating a rich soil (letter, 13 September). I would take solace from this analogy if it means that modern, formulaic, commercialised "pop" may soon be dead and buried.

DAVID CARVEL

BIGGAR, SOUTH LANARKSHIRE

Positive image

Sir: Alison Lapper's statement "Never before has someone with a disability been put in such a public place and portrayed in such a positive way" (The 5-Minute Interview, 14 September) demonstrates a certain unawareness of another statue nearby - Nelson.

JEFF PICKTHALL

BARROW IN FURNESS, CUMBRIA

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