Save the Trees, Save the Apes, Expert Says
BANGKOK A U.N. meeting on endangered species could help secure the survival one of humanity's closest living relatives, the orangutan, by saving its forest home from loggers, a leading expert said on Tuesday.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) could also extend a helping hand to other great apes all critically endangered if countries follow a European resolution to develop a global blueprint for their survival.
"These (CITES) submissions could really help to save the great apes," said Ian Redmond, the chief consultant for the U.N.'s Great Apes Survival Project (GRASP).
One key proposal involves trees, not apes. Indonesia is proposing to impose restrictions on trade in all species of ramin, a hardwood in high demand for furniture production.
"Orangutans do not feed on ramin, but its removal greatly disturbs them," Redmond said on the sidelines of the two-week CITES conference in Bangkok, which began on Saturday. "Loggers also build canals to float the logs out of the forest, and these canals drain the peat swamps where the orangutans live," he said.
Orangutans are only found today on the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra, and Redmond said the most recent scientific estimates put their number at 45,000 higher than some but still alarming.
The conference will also consider a resolution from the European Union put foward by Ireland, which formerly held the E.U. presidency urging CITES members "to bring worldwide attention to the ape crisis, raise funds for conservation, and develop a global conservation strategy for all great ape populations."
Redmond said the situation was critical in the face of habitat destruction, the trade in wild bushmeat, and the ebola virus in Africa.
Millions of chimpanzees were once found in Africa, but now their fragmented populations are believed to number only between 100,000 and 200,000 between Senegal and Tanzania.
Eastern lowland gorillas may only number a few thousand. A decade ago, the western lowland gorilla was believed to number 100,000, but Redmond said now it was believed to be "signficantly reduced" from that level.
Only a few hundred mountain gorillas are left in the lush volcanic hills straddling Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And there are believed to be only between 15,000 and 50,000 bonobos left, Redmond said.
"The great apes may vanish in our lifetimes," he said.