*NEWS* GREAT APES FACE TOTAL EXTINCTION
*NEWS* GREAT APES FACE TOTAL EXTINCTION
2005-09-02 at 11:23:00 am #12727
Sumatran Orangutans Face Extinction
Experts guess the
orangutan population could drop to less than 250 within 50 years as
their habitat is literally hacked to pieces for profit.
LONDON (Sept. 05) – Rebuilding after December’s devastating tsunami and
the dawn of peace in Indonesia’s Aceh province could mean annihilation
for the region’s orangutans.
The area is the last refuge on Sumatra island of the timid and highly
intelligent “people of the forest” which live high in the trees of
dense rainforest and are already on the endangered list as their
habitat shrinks under human onslaught.
“It is a double-edged sword,” Ian Singleton, scientific director of the
Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, said of the return to
normality after a separatist conflict. “As peace breaks out so the
orangutans could be wiped out.”
He said a combination of illegal logging for export and reconstruction
after the killer tidal wave plus resumption of legal logging put on
hold by the civil war was to blame.
“Everybody is raring to go. It is full steam ahead and it doesn’t look
good for the orangutan,” said Singleton, in London on Thursday for the
launch of the first World Atlas of the Great Apes and their
The U.N.-sponsored book charts the dwindling ranges of the six species
of great apes — western and eastern gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and
Bornean and Sumatran orangutans.
Already numbers of Sumatran orangutans have plunged to around 7,000
from 85,000 in 1900 and Singleton estimates they could be down to less
than 250 within 50 years as their habitat is literally hacked to pieces
Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry calculates an area of orangutan habitat half the size of Switzerland is lost each year.
“Orangutans are prima donnas. They are very sensitive to change,” Singleton said.
He said the authorities were well aware of the problem and were talking
a good fight. But there was little relation between plans on paper and
what was happening in practice.
“It is corruption. Aceh is a stunning resource. It is a matter of
trying to persuade them to protect it,” he told Reuters. “But there is
huge pressure to get rich quick and that doesn’t augur well.”
Every night convoys of vehicles carrying timber can be seen leaving the
forests — taking with them the future of the enigmatic great ape which
only exists in northern Sumatra and on nearby Borneo.
“The trade is worth millions of dollars, and you need money to fight
it. You can’t stop it with a few thousand dollars here and there,” he
But Singleton said if logging, hunting and the replacement of vast
tracts of forest by oil palms for Western cosmetic industries could be
halted then orangutan numbers could be stabilized on Sumatra.
Apes ‘extinct in a generation’
The great apes are our kin… but we have not treated them with the respect they deserve
Some of the great apes – chimps, gorillas, and orangutans – could be
extinct in the wild within a human generation, a new assessment
Human settlement, logging, mining and disease mean that orangutans in
parts of Indonesia may lose half of their habitat within five years.
There are now more than 20,000 humans on the planet for every chimpanzee.
The World Atlas of Great Apes and their Conservation is published by the UN’s environment and biodiversity agencies.
It brings together data from many sources in an attempt to assess
comprehensively the prospects for the remaining great apes; the
gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos of Africa, and the orangutans of
The general conclusion is that the outlook is poor.
“All of the great apes are listed as either endangered or critically
endangered,” co-author Lera Miles from the World Conservation
Monitoring Centre near Cambridge told the BBC News website.
“Critically endangered means that their numbers have decreased, or will decrease, by 80% within three generations.”
One critically endangered species is the Sumatran orangutan, of which around 7,300 remain in the wild.
Most live in Aceh province at the northern tip of Sumatra, which saw
armed conflict for decades between the Indonesian government and
separatist rebels, and which suffered heavily during December’s tsunami.
In mid-August, a peace deal was signed which may end the 29-year conflict.
“The irony is that just as things are getting better for the people of
Aceh, they’re getting worse for wildlife, with people collecting
timber, dormant logging concessions being activated, and illegal
logging as well,” said Dr Miles.
“Projections show that in 50 years’ time, there could be as few as 250
left in the wild; but that’s not a viable size for a population.”
The other species of orangutan, in Borneo, is much better off, with
around 45,000 animals remaining; though data gathered for this report
by the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) and its biodiversity
agency the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) suggests that
numbers have declined 10-fold since the middle of the last century.
The mountain gorilla of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Cross
River gorilla, found on the border between Nigeria and Cameroon, are
also listed as critically endangered, with numbers estimated at 700 and
For gorillas and chimpanzees, ebola fever is emerging as a significant threat.
Why ebola is now taking its toll of apes is not clear, but may be
connected with forest clearance. One theory is that the as yet
unidentified animal which harbours the virus lives on the edges of
forests; logging creates more edges, and so enhances the transmission
An expert group of researchers which convened in May has just released
an action plan for conserving apes in western equatorial Africa.
“If we find ways to protect apes from the ebola virus, we also will protect humans,” it concludes.
But disease is not the only threat to the well-being of chimpanzees, their close relatives bonobos, and gorillas.
Bushmeat hunting and habitat removal by logging are also major issues.
The 1990s saw forest cover declining in all African countries where gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos live.
Close to human
The World Atlas comes with a foreword by UN Secretary-General Kofi
Annan, in which he argues forcibly for the preservation of apes.
“The great apes are our kin,” he writes. “Like us, they are self-aware
and have cultures, tools, politics, and medicines; they can learn to
use sign language, and have conversations with people and with each
“Sadly, however, we have not treated them with the respect they deserve.”
His thesis on the close kinship of ape and man has been reinforced by
the publication this week of the chimpanzee genome, demonstrating that
humans and chimps share 99% of their active genetic material.
But stopping the decline of ape populations may not be easy, with human
encroachment continuing, often under the pressure of poverty.
A key player is the Great Ape Survival Project (Grasp), launched under
UN auspices in 2001, which aims to establish strategies for all regions
of Africa and Asia which still have ape populations.
It holds its first council meeting next week in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Emergency Plan Unveiled to Save Africa’s Apes
‘On the Brink of Losing Some of Our Closest Living Relatives’
JOHANNESBURG (sep 05) – Conservationists unveiled a $30 million plan on
Wednesday to save the great apes of Africa, which are under threat of
extinction from man and disease.
Conservationists say the western lowland gorilla and the central
African chimpanzee are on the cusp of extinction, with poaching for the
“bushmeat” trade, rampant logging and the Ebola virus the main threats
to their survival.
“This devastating mix of threats leaves us on the brink of losing some
of our closest living relatives,” said Russell Mittermeier, president
of Conservation International.
While experts say precise estimates for remaining ape numbers are
difficult to pin down, there is a consensus among conservationists that
they are in steep decline.
“We’re not sure of reliable estimates. There are fears that previous
numbers are out of date and are overestimations,” Emma Stokes, one of
the plan’s authors, told Reuters by phone from the Republic of Congo.
Drawn up by more than 70 experts and government officials, the plan
designates 12 sites in five countries: Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, Central
African Republic, and Equatorial Guinea.
Seven “exceptional sites” have ape populations exceeding 2,000 in a
large area while five “important sites” have populations of 500 to 2000
in areas covering 1,219 to 9,011 square kilometers.
The plan, with a price tag of $30 million over 5 years, has targeted
these sites for emergency programs intended to increase security
against illegal hunting and logging and slow the spread of the Ebola
Proposed measures include combating poaching and improving monitoring,
response to Ebola outbreaks, training and tourism development.
“The plan represents an urgent appeal to the international community
for immediate action, before the damage is irreversible,” Conservation
International said in a statement.
Conservation International said the highly contagious Ebola virus was having devastating effects on ape populations.
And since it spreads through contact with blood and other body fluids,
bushmeat hunters and other people who handled carcasses of infected
animals were also at risk.