UN sounds alarm for great apes at Earth Summit
JOHANNESBURG - The jungle homes of the great apes will all but disappear in 30 years unless humans take drastic action to protect their closest relatives, the United Nations said this week.
A U.N. report launched at the Earth Summit showed that logging, mining, human settlement and the trade in ape meat were wiping out gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos in Africa and the orangutans of Asia.
U.N officials called for urgent action to save the great apes, saying their fate was crucial to the success of the Earth Summit\'s plans to reduce biodiversity loss by 2010.
\"The great apes...will be the litmus test of whether the world succeeds in this important goal or not,\" said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme.
The report looked at each of the four great ape populations and mapped out the likely impact on their habitats if current development trends were not checked.
\"Less than 10 percent of the remaining habitat of the great apes of Africa will be left relatively undisturbed by 2030 if road building, mining camps and other infrastructure developments continue at current levels,\" it said.
The future of the orangutans of southeast Asia looks even bleaker. In 28 years there will be almost no pristine habitat left, the report said.
Researchers say the great apes are highly intelligent with sophisticated social structures. Chimpanzees share 98.4 percent of human DNA, more than any other mammal.
\"They are like us in more than their biological composition,\" primate researcher Jane Goodall told a news conference to launch the report.
The shrinking habitat has been accompanied by a sharp decline in great ape populations.
Some estimates put the current chimpanzee population at 200,000, against perhaps two million a century ago.
There are a few thousand lowland gorillas left and only a few hundred mountain gorillas on the volcanic slopes of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The U.N. is working with researchers, conservationists, governments and local people to draw up recovery plans in the two dozen countries that have great ape populations.
Story by Ed Stoddard
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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