September 5, 2005

Congo Hosts Conference to Save Apes

KINSHASA, Congo -- Governments and conservationists opened a week of talks Monday in Congo's capital to study ways to save endangered apes around the world from extinction during a conference expected to produce a new global agreement to protect them.

Great apes - gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans - are threatened by logging, poaching and conflict worldwide. There are believed to be about 400,000 left Africa and Asia, compared to millions in the 19th century, according to the United Nations.

"I am optimistic, despite the declining numbers of apes," Ian Redmond, chief consultant for the U.N.'s Great Apes Survival Project said ahead of the meeting. "There are signs of political commitment and a shared determination to address the problems we are here to discuss."

Representatives of 23 governments - most of them in Africa, plus Indonesia and Malaysia - are to attend the five-day meeting, a follow-up to similar talks in Paris two years ago.

The meeting is expected to culminate Friday with the so-called Kinshasa Declaration, a new commitment by governments that will lay out common strategies to save the animals.

Last week, Washington-based Conservation International said a combination of logging, hunting and the dreaded Ebola virus was putting some ape species on the brink of extinction in Central Africa - notably the western lowland gorillas and the Central African chimpanzee.

Last year, experts estimated the population of eastern lowland gorillas in strife-torn eastern Congo had been cut by 70 percent in the past decade.

"Over half of the 23 countries that harbor great apes have seen recent conflict," Redmond said. "We cannot stop with conservation efforts while we wait for fighting to end."