Toepfer said that at the close of the Earth Summit, the world had an agreement to significantly reduce biodiversity loss by 2010. "This is an important agreement. The great apes, our closest living relatives will be the litmus test of whether the world succeeds in this important goal or not."
Robert Hepworth, deputy director of the UNEP Division of Environmental Conventions and a biodiversity expert, unveiled the organization's GRASP strategy document which will build on the work carried out by the wide range of partners since the project was launched in 2001.
The strategy aims to cover all of the two dozen range states of the Great Apes and draw up national recovery action plans in collaboration with the governments concerned, wildlife groups, and local people.
"An international, collaborative effort, has been urgently needed which was why GRASP was born," Hepworth said. "The strategy will guide and assist UNEP and UNESCO and our other partners to target conservation effort, while helping to join and marshal the efforts of other international agencies and conventions such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species as well as governments and civil society. This can only be realistic when local communities have a stake in conservation, when they can reap benefits from sustainably harvesting forests for food, fuel, building materials and medicines or from ecotourism."
Hepworth announced that more funding for the project was being received from the government of the United Kingdom and new money from the United Nations Foundation (UNF) and the wildlife charity International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Other new partners include the Dian Fossey Gorilla Foundation (Europe), the World Conservation Society, the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, and the Pan African Sanctuaries Alliance, Hepworth said.
UNESCO, a co-partner in the GRASP initiative, is also working with the European Space Agency to image and map ape habitats in the Albertine Valley of Africa's Central Rift region.
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