August 31, 2005

New atlas highlights plight of world’s great apes

By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON (Reuters) - The first detailed global map of the
world's great apes -- from gorillas to orangutans -- shows they
are in deep trouble.

The World Atlas of Great Apes and their Conservation,
published by the United Nations to coincide with world great
apes day on Thursday, illustrates the need for concerted
international action, the U.N. said.

The U.N. described the atlas as "the most comprehensive
compendium of information about great apes ever compiled."

The 23 states in which the apes live in the wild are among
the world's poorest. Poverty, encroachments caused by logging
and population growth, the booming bushmeat trade, disease and
climate change are threatening entire species.

"We have a duty to rescue our closest living relatives as
part of our wider responsibilities to conserve the ecosystems
they inhabit," said U.N. Environment Programme chief Klaus

The atlas says 16 of the states where the eastern and
western gorillas, bonobos, chimpanzees and Sumatran and Bornean
orangutans roam have per capita incomes of less than $800 a

Already more than a dozen key locations -- from Cameroon to
the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- have been identified as
priority sites for gorillas and chimpanzees, and more are
expected to be added in coming years.

The atlas was published a day after conservationists called
for a five-year, $30 million plan to try to save some of the
most threatened great ape species in Africa.

In Asia orangutans are predicted to lose nearly half of
their habitat within five years through mining, logging and
human encroachment.

"Within a generation -- without better protection -- we
could see species becoming too depleted to survive long term in
the wild," said atlas editors Julian Caldecott and Lera Miles.

Ian Singleton, scientific director of the Sumatran
Orangutan Conservation Programme, also made a stark forecast.

"Fifty years from now only seven of the current 13
orangutan populations are expected to remain. Of these, six
will consist of fewer than 20 individuals," he said.

It is not only human activities that are threatening to
eradicate the great apes -- diseases like Ebola haemorrhagic
fever are also speeding their demise.

"Local people's attitudes are critical to the survival of
the apes in any given area, so projects that help to develop
sustainable livelihoods in tandem with ape protection will be
most successful," said broadcaster Charlotte Uhlenbroek.