UNEP sounds alarm over the plight of great apes
Jan 16, 2015

The iconic primates roaming tropical forests in Africa and Asia are facing grave threats occasioned by human encroachment into their habitats, diseases and climatic shocks.

Doug Cress, program coordinator of the UNEP-hosted Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP), said on Thursday the survival of gorillas, chimpanzee, orangutan and bonobo is at stake thanks to illegal hunting and depletion of their natural habitat.

"Great apes in Africa and Asia are in great danger. There are tremendous threats to their survival and we might witness their extinction in our lifetime," Cress told Xinhua during an exclusive interview in Nairobi.

The Great Apes Survival Partnership comprised of UN agencies, corporations, scientific and conservation bodies has raised awareness on threats to primates since its formation in 2001.

Cress said the alliance has focused on strategic interventions to enhance the survival of primates.

"We have key priority areas to focus on in order to enhance long-term survival of great apes. They include habitat protection and restoration," he said, noting that depletion of critical ecosystems like forests and watersheds due to pupation growth poses serious threat to primates.

"We are pushing apes off the planet when we cut down trees and interfere with water and food supply for these species. We are competing with great apes for the same forest, air and food," Cress said.

Concerned about declining population of great apes in Africa and Asia, the international community has mobilized resources to protect their habitats from human and environmental threats.

Cress noted that conservation initiatives and mass campaigns have slowed down loss of primates in their natural habitat

"I think at best, conservation has slowed down the pace of loss among great apes. So many organizations are involved in this noble effort with realization it has monetary value," said Cress.

Primates are not only an integral part of natural heritage but are a critical source of tourism revenue for countries they inhabit.

Cress noted that countries across east and central Africa are generating huge revenue from tourists visiting game reserves to observe gorillas and chimpanzee.

"In Uganda, every single gorilla is worth a million dollars annually while gorilla tourism in Rwanda generated 294 million dollars in 2013,"Cress told Xinhua.

He challenged the international community to dedicate more resources towards conservation of great apes. "We need to value great apes like any other animals since they are part of the green economy."

The GRASP has engaged African political leaders and policymakers to promote conservation of primates. Cress noted that local communities too have become critical players in the protection of habitats occupied by great apes.

"Communities living near national parks where there are gorillas and chimpanzees have realized the value of protecting them," Cress said.

He revealed that local communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo have initiated gorilla tourism projects to earn a living and in turn conserve the primate's habitat.