UN Launches Campaign to Save Last Great Apes in the Wild

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Partners for the project include the Ape Alliance, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Born Free Foundation, Fauna and Flora International, the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force, and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Worth More Alive Than Dead

More than a million wild chimpanzees flourished in Africa at the beginning of the 1900s, but at current rates of decline, they could be extinct by 2010 or 2020. Poaching, forest destruction, the bushmeat trade, and even human-borne disease are taking their toll on the animals.

Côte d'Ivoire, which has seven national parks that are home to chimpanzees, contains the largest population of chimps in West Africa. But most of them live in fragmented and dispersed populations that have limited prospect of long-term survival.

UNEP recommends that wildlife corridors linking fragmented habitats and isolated populations be created to expand sustainable habitats for chimps. Such tracts could then become magnets for tourism.

Citing the important role chimpanzees have in all traditional African mythologies as well as the genuine interest humans have in their fellow primates, UNEP officials are encouraging ecotourism development in threatened regions to counter poaching and other encroaching menaces.

A conservation action plan for each of a series of key ranges for the primates is proposed, which would include improving protection for the remaining chimpanzees, evaluating tree planting schemes to improve their habitat, training people from local communities to monitor given sections of each park, and establishing education centers where adults and children may be encouraged to participate in conservation.

"Where great ape tourism has been developed, for instance, in Uganda's Bwindi and Kibale Forest National Parks, they have become to local communities an important source of revenue—worth more alive than dead," said Heather Eves of the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force.

"Too few people who depend on the forests for fuel, building materials, medicinal plants, and food are aware of the role gorillas play in regenerating woodlands by dispersing seeds and pruning trees," Eves said. "Along with elephants, they are the gardeners of the African and Southeast Asian forests."

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