Press releases

Thursday 01 Sep 2005

Poverty will make the Great Apes history

Fewer than 250 wild Sumatran orangutans may exist in fifty years, their habitat is disappearing and the devastation of the Asian tsunami has accelerated the rate of destruction.

World’s First Atlas of Great Apes reveals human struggle behind apes’ plight

London 1st September 2005: Fewer than 250 wild Sumatran orangutans may exist in fifty years, their habitat is disappearing and the devastation of the Asian tsunami has accelerated the rate of destruction.

This is among the findings being announced at the launch of the first World Atlas of Great Apes and their Conservation today (1st September 2005) by the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, which reveals that it is not just humans that will benefit from a campaign to ‘make poverty history’. For the other 6 species of great ape – the eastern and western gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo, Sumatran and Bornean orangutan – it could literally save them from the cooking pot.

The first World Atlas of Great Apes and their Conservation provides a country-by-country assessment of the 23 range states hosting the wild great apes. These countries are among the poorest in the world (1), so concerted international action is required if these species are to survive.

The Atlas, edited at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, is the most comprehensive compendium of information about great apes ever compiled, bringing together the latest research and observations from scientists throughout the world and including contributions from Kofi Annan, Jane Goodall, Richard Leakey, Toshisada Nishida, Russ Mittermeier and Ian Redmond. The book includes conservation status assessments at a species and country view level. The great apes’ biology, behaviour and culture are discussed in detail.

Information from the Atlas will be used to focus international attention for an eleventh hour conservation effort aimed at saving humankind's closest living relatives from extinction. If current trends continue, by 2032: 99% of the orangutan range will suffer medium to high impacts from human development, as will 90% of the gorilla range, 92% of chimpanzee range and 96% of bonobo range.

The Atlas provides population estimates for the apes (see table) and reveals that the survival of the apes is threatened by: -

Poverty of host countries – 16 out of the 23 great range states have a per capita income of less than US $800.

Growing bushmeat crisis - The Atlas raises concerns over the increasing trade in great ape bushmeat, and the sale of orphans to expatriates wanting to 'rescue them'. Entire groups of adults may be killed to capture one orphan for sale. In Central Africa, a single chimpanzee or gorilla carcass can fetch the equivalent of US$20-25.

Fragile habitats - The Atlas maps the impact of infrastructure development on wildlife, and uses the GLOBIO computer model to simulate future changes. Independent studies support these findings, predicting that if current trends in Indonesia and Malaysia persist, the orangutan will lose 47% of its habitat in the next 5 years (2), whilst at least 24% of the bonobo’s range in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is already under logging concessions.

Habitat fragmentation - The Atlas presents new information on the distribution of the Cross River gorilla, one of the two subspecies of western gorilla, which has only around 250 to 280 individuals left. These few animals are distributed amongst more than ten fragmented highland areas. Fragmentation isolates great ape populations from one another, increasing their vulnerability.

Disease - It is also increasingly clear that disease, especially Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is playing a part in the decline of ape populations and new research is needed, along with stronger efforts to limit disease transmission.

The Atlas will be launched by Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP at the Zoological Society of London, Regents Park, London, with presentations by Lera Miles, UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, co-editor of the Atlas, Glyn Davies, Director of Conservation Programmes, Zoological Society of London and Mark Leighton, Chair, GRASP Interim Scientific Commission.

Also at the launch, details of ‘an indicative list of priority populations’, being compiled by Interim Scientific Commission of the United Nations Great Ape Survival Project (GRASP) headed up by Mark Leighton, which will be among the critical issues to be discussed at the Great Apes Survival Project (GRASP) Intergovernmental Meeting: Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, 5-9 September 2005. The Intergovernmental Meeting will be attended by Rt Hon Jim Knight, UK Minister for Biodiversity.

Read more at UNEP WCMC

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