From: König PrüB, GmbH <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Fri, May 12, 2000 4:48 PM
World's Great Apes Are Disappearing
By Joseph B. Verrengia
AP Science Writer
Friday , May 12, 2000
LISLE, Ill. ^^ The world's great apes are hurtling toward extinction at
a rate that is alarming scientists.
At an urgent meeting this week of wildlife and zoo researchers from 12
nations, experts said new estimates of the populations of chimpanzees,
gorillas and orangutans are far lower than they were even a year or two
ago, with some species down to a few thousand, or even a few
Even more alarming, experts reported, is the expansion of hunting and
habitat destruction in some of the most politically unstable nations in
Africa and Asia.
But agreeing how to rapidly and effectively save humans' closest
relatives, or even deciding which species might be the most
endangered, is proving to be a complicated and contentious task.
"We have a crisis of such immense proportions that I don't believe that
most people realize how bad it is," said primate expert John F. Oates
of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
"We have to stop sitting on our hands. Jane Goodall has said that in 20
years there would be no more chimpanzees. Well, that is being revised
to 10 years, or even five."
The great apes might be the most well-known of the endangered
primates, but their plight is not unique.
According to Conservation International, a Washington-based
non-profit group, 10 percent of the world's 608 primate species and
subspecies on three continents are critically imperiled, meaning they
could vanish at any time. Another 10 percent are endangered, meaning
they would probably go extinct in the next 20 years without
The most urgent threats are logging, hunting, war and the millions of
impoverished refugees who rely on the same forests as the primates for
food, fuel and shelter.
Participants at the meeting agreed that conventional conservation
measures ^ such as establishing national parks and rehabilitation
centers for orphaned and injured animals ^ were overwhelmed in the
In Indonesia, for example, orangutans are disappearing at a rate of
more than 1,000 per year, with fewer than 15,000 remaining. They are
the slowest-breeding of the great apes, with females bearing one infant
every eight years.
Political turmoil has encouraged rampant illegal logging in the
orangutan's native swamp forests on the islands of Borneo and
Sumatra, as well as the setting of huge forest fires and the spread of
palm oil plantations. The orangutans' habitat shrank by 50 percent in
the 1990s alone, as illegal logging quadrupled, researchers reported.
Mobs have destroyed national park headquarters and threatened
"It's the revenge of the little guy," Birute Galdikas, who has studied
orangutans in Borneo for 28 years, said of the loggers, most of whom
are impoverished locals. "They are taking what they believe is theirs
and no conservationist is going to stop them."
Other orangutan researchers want to see the Indonesian government
crack down on the illegal loggers and encourage ecotourism to boost
"They need to enforce existing laws and land-use plans," said Duke
University anthropologist Carel van Schaik, who studies orangutans in
northern Sumatra. "We need a moratorium on cutting in old-growth
The orangutans might not even be the most imperiled of the great apes.
Some suggest that distinction belongs to the bonobo, or pygmy
chimpanzee. It is found only in the Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire.
The bonobo might be the closest living link to our human ancestors.
Like other chimps, it shares nearly 99 percent of its genetic material
with humans. Much of its brain structure and key neurons overlap with
those of humans, and it tends to walk more upright.
Civil war and hunting have drastically reduced the bonobos' range.
Bonobo meat, along with that of chimps and gorillas, appears on
"There is no reliable estimate of the bonobo population. It could be
5,000," said Gay Reinartz, associate curator of the Milwaukee Zoo.
"The war in Congo has brought a halt to all field research."
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