Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Action in Kinshasa to save the great apes

Posted: 6 January 2006


The consumption of wildlife is now the greatest threat to the great apes and some monkey species. In September, U.N. and Government representatives of all of the range states of Africa’s great apes, and representatives of governments providing aid to the region, met in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo for a historic agreement to halt the oblivion of Africa’s great apes. ADI was there too.

In forests throughout Central and West Africa and Amazonia (as well as Asia), enormous numbers of species are being hunted for meat, frequently illegally and unsustainably. The loss of tropical forest wildlife through the bushmeat trade is an even greater threat than deforestation. Hunters are killing 6,000 western lowland gorillas, 15,000 chimpanzees and 7.5 million colobus monkeys for food each year.

‘Bushmeat’ is a word commonly used in Africa to describe the meat of any terrestrial wild animal. In South America it is often referred to as wild-meat (carne de monte/silvestre). People have been hunting wild animals for thousands of years and often on an unsustainable level. Indeed the arrival of humans in previously uninhabited areas is characterised by the mass extinctions of many species. People have always had an appetite for easily available game. In more recent history, hunting was previously mostly subsistence in nature, employing local, relatively low impact, technologies and carried out by relatively small numbers of long-term forest-resident peoples. However in the last 15 – 20 years, the nature of bushmeat hunting has radically changed, becoming – as a wide range of experts now argue – heavily unsustainable and on a scale never seen before.

Logging is an economically important land use throughout West and Central Africa, however, in the 1980s the inaccessible forests were opened to hunters when international logging companies, mainly looking for materials for western consumers, expanded into Central African forests. Roads were built to accommodate logging trucks and these also allowed the influx of shotguns and steel cable for snares, and enabled hunters to carry more carcasses out of the forest. A similar story is seen in South America where road building has heralded local extinctions of primates as human populations migrate and access to forest becomes easier.

With their numbers already vulnerable, the impact on the great ape has been devastating. Chimpanzee numbers have dwindled from around 2 million at the beginning of the last century in 25 countries in West and Central Africa, to barely 150,000 today in 4 countries. These animals are literally being eaten off the face of the earth.


Attempting to turn the tide
The Great Apes Survival Project (GRASP) launched in 2001, is an initiative of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to save great apes and their habitat. The GRASP Partnership is an alliance bringing together governmental and intergovernmental, UN institutional, non-governmental, scientific and academic foundations, local community and private sector interests. GRASP has confirmed that great ape populations are declining at an alarming rate worldwide, with scientists now suggesting that the majority of great ape populations may be extinct in our lifetime. Through intergovernmental dialogue and policy making, conservation planning initiatives, technical and scientific support to great ape range state governments, field projects and fund and awareness raising in donor countries, GRASP has been attempting to complement existing great ape conservation efforts.

To this end a week long conference was staged in Kinshasa in September 2005, where governments in 23 great ape range states, governments with aid and economic interests and NGOs working for great ape protection, unanimously agreed that action to save apes is urgently needed now.

The Kinshasa Declaration
In her opening comments, Dr Melanie Virtue, GRASP Team Leader of the Secretariat of UNEP in Kenya, noted: “This is the 11th hour for the great apes.”

Dr Richard Leakey of UN’s GRASP and one of the foremost authorities on wildlife and nature conservation, commented: “When we discuss great apes and their survival, we are talking about members of our own family. We are the sixth great ape. This might make people uncomfortable, but it is the scientific position.” He referred to the impact of climate change that is sweeping through the world, citing hurricane Katrina as a prime example, and the devastating impact these changes have on the poorest countries where populations are hungry and in need. He warned, “It is no longer possible for NGOs to apply first aid. Government action is needed if we are to address the survival of great apes in those areas, where people are desperate to survive themselves. Some species face imminent extinction, and even signing the current agreement may be too late for them.”

From the outset it was clear that there was a will for action but financial resources and a co-ordinated strategy to save these animals is not always in place. Dr Leakey noted that African nations cannot pay for the preservation of the world’s heritage – other countries need to help.

The meeting saw the participation of over 200 international delegates, as well as more than 300 participants from the DRC. Eighteen of the 23 great ape range states from Africa and Southeast Asia were represented, nine of these by Ministerial-level delegations.

Whilst we may often seem critical of the UK’s Defra (Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs) on matters such as the Animal Welfare Bill, we do give credit where it is due, and at the GRASP conference the Defra team made a positive contribution throughout. It was also pleasing that the UK’s Biodiversity minister Jim Knight travelled to the DRC to address the meeting, showing that these matters are taken seriously outside of Africa and Asia. It is perhaps disappointing that there were not more senior figures present from Western countries.

The week saw discussion covering the difficulties faced when some of the poorest communities have to live side by side with some of the world’s most endangered species. The troubled past and present of so much of Africa is ever present in the proliferation of automatic weapons. In the DRC’s Virunga National Park alone, 209 park rangers have died protecting the wildlife from poachers. A speaker from a ranger federation showed a photograph of a class of young Congolese men graduating from ranger training – almost every member of the class is now dead.

On Friday, 9th September, the Kinshasa Declaration on Great Apes, a high-level political statement committing to protecting great apes was signed by 76 representatives - including 16 range states, 6 donor countries, 25 NGO Partners, 2 Multi lateral Environmental Agreements and 2 intergovernmental organisations. This is the first ever international agreement to protect the great apes. The declaration:

  • affirming commitment to the GRASP Global Strategy and to support and implement effective measures to counter the threats facing the great apes;
  • range state cooperation to ensure the effective enforcement of great ape legislation and coordinated efforts to halt activities detrimental to great ape populations;
  • emphasising the role of national and international measures and participation in regional initiatives, and encourage ratification and compliance with international treaties;
  • urging development and implementation of National Great Ape Survival Plans by range states;
  • urging GRASP Partners and others to support range states;
  • encouraging the provision of long-term ecologically sustainable economic benefits to local communities;
  • inviting international institutions and agencies to prioritise policies promoting ecologically sustainable livelihoods for local and indigenous communities which prevent activities detrimental to the survival of the great apes;
  • reaffirming their commitment to ensure GRASP has the capacity to realise its full potential;
  • resolving to set the target of securing a constant and significant reduction in the current loss of great ape populations by 2010 and to secure the future of all species and subspecies of great apes in the wild by 2015; and
  • inviting the international community to provide effective and coherent support, including funding, to assist efforts made by great ape range states.

Many of the countries who hold in trust for humanity the links to the very origins of our species are amongst the poorest in the world and therefore the “donor” countries - the developed nations who create the demand for the products which have depleted the environment of the Great Apes - are pledged to play their part in helping the range states of these species to fulfil their custodianship on behalf of the world community, whilst allowing their own economies to develop.

We congratulate everyone who has worked so hard to take this bold step to bring together everyone involved in these issues. September 9th was a day offering s a glimmer of hope for humanity and our planet, as well as our next of kin.

Palm oil demand killing orang-utans
Orang-utans, both Bornean and Sumatran, are being driven towards extinction. The most imminent threat to their existence is the demand for palm oil. The rainforest habitats where the orang-utans live are being destroyed and are replaced with palm oil plantations, and the roads that are bulldozed to provide access to the plantations also provide access for illegal loggers, hunters and poachers.

Poaching and hunting are only two of many ways in which orang-utans meet their end. Their populations inevitably shrink, as the remaining rainforest cannot support all of the refugee animals in addition to the existing population. The displaced animals are then left in a position where they cannot find enough food or space for a home range and feeding ground. Subsequently, the orang-utans become stressed and may starve to death, or they may be killed as the shrinking habitats push the orang-utans closer towards human populated areas, where they are either trapped or shot while raiding fruit orchards or palm oil plantations. It is estimate that less than 1% of orang-utan habitat will be unaffected by infrastructure development by 2030 and at the rate in which the orang-utans are declining, they will be extinct in 10 years time unless urgent action is taken.

You can do your part by not fuelling the industry and refusing to buy products made with palm oil – Friends of the Earth estimate that 1 in 10 supermarket products contain palm oil.

Action in Kinshasa to save the great apes pdf version

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MMaP: How you can help

MMaP: Celebrities lend their support

International Primate Day

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