Conservationists Warn Great Apes Face Extinction
KINSHASA Poaching, logging and disease will soon wipe out the last of the world's great apes unless new strategies are devised to save humankind's closest relatives, conservationists said on Monday.
From Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria in Africa to the islands of Borneo and Sumatra in Asia, scientists fear populations of gorillas, chimpanzees and orang-utans could disappear within a generation without urgent action.
"As we sit today, it is important to remember we are talking about the future of a member of our family, not a strange creature that lives in the jungle," Richard Leakey, a prominent conservationist from Kenya, told delegates from 23 countries at a conference in the Congolese capital Kinshasa on saving apes.
"The problem of the apes is not a shortage of money, it is a shortage of strategy," Leakey said. "Let us devote our minds -- the one thing we have more of than other apes -- and let's secure their future."
Democratic Republic of Congo is home to chimpanzees and some of the last remaining mountain gorillas, among the world's most endangered species, who roam the volcanic mountains in Virunga National Park straddling the border with Rwanda and Uganda.
The majestic apes were made famous by "Gorillas in the Mist", the film about researcher Dian Fossey who studied them in Rwanda in the 1960s and documented her work in a book before she was hacked to death in Virunga in 1985.
BRINK OF EXTINCTION
Trade in "bush meat" by poachers who sell the animals for food, logging and the Ebola virus have also pushed Africa's western lowland gorilla and central African chimpanzee to the brink of extinction.
"Those scientists who are authorities have showed that habitat loss in addition to the trade in bush meat and logging may cause great apes to disappear within our generation," said Samy Mankoto, secretary-general of the meeting, organised by the United Nations Environment Programme and the U.N. cultural organisation UNESCO.
"Although some groups may survive, their long-term viability will be threatened by their dwindling numbers and fragmentation of habitat," he said at the five-day meeting's opening ceremony.
Some 600 delegates will issue a "Declaration on Great Apes" at the end of the meeting on protection measures. The meeting is part of the Great Apes Survival Project, a new initiative designed to boost global cooperation over the animals.
Great apes are man's closest living relatives -- sharing more than 95 percent of their genetic make-up -- and have helped explain how humans evolved alongside millions of other species.
Despite decades of work by individuals and organisations, conservationists fear scientists are about to lose a key link between humans and the natural world.
In a 2002 survey of 24 protected areas in Africa and Southeast Asia, great ape populations were found to be declining in 96 percent of the sites.
"It can be asserted that today ... every one of the great ape species is at high risk of extinction, either in the immediate future or at best within 50 years," the United Nations said in its Global Strategy for the Survival of the Great Apes.