A multinational project under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme, the Great Ape Survival Project was initiated in 2005 at a meeting in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The resulting Kinshasa Declaration on Great Apes focuses on sustainable use and cooperative existence with the great apes, which include gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutan.
Human Poverty and Sustainable Use
The most important issue threatening great ape survival is that, of the twenty-three range states where great apes live, fifteen are countries whose average incomes are less than three dollars a day. In order for these primates to survive, a way must be found for the humans who share the habitat to survive as well. Teaching sustainable use of forest resources such as water, food and fuel is one part of the GRASP plan. On the surface this sounds good. And it might work in areas that have not yet been opened to outside development.
Logging and the Bushmeat Trade
But in areas where foreign investors are commercially logging, the money from the logging does not reach the local people. And this type of intensive logging has made areas of deep forest more easily accessible to hunters.
The locals then end up selling bushmeat. Bushmeat is any wild animal meat from great apes to rats killed in the bush, the African name for the forest. Great ape meat is the most prestigious. It is sold in the major cities in restaurants, largely to curious foreigners. So what had been a subsistence hunt for local people has become a source of income, an unsustainable one.
In areas where development has not affected the forest, GRASP has a chance. Preventing the incursion of logging companies will be the first step. Without logging roads, the great apes are harder to get to and the people in these areas have long had a largely sustainable relationship with the bush. By providing some basic assistance as well as further improving diet and hygiene both the humans, and the primates that share susceptibility to the same diseases, will be helped.
Individual Species Concerns
To prevent further loss of primary habitat, one of the first tasks is to identify key environment for each of the great apes and to ensure that wildlife corridors between populations are maintained to ensure genetic diversity. For the bonobo, a species confined to a very small territory, protection of that territory and immediate support for local sustainable activities needs to happen right away. For mountain gorillas, caught up in local human fighting, efforts must focus on resolving political conflict as well.
Chimpanzees and orangutans will benefit most from the overall sustainable use plan. Long exploited for the bushmeat and pet trades their populations they also suffer from habitat loss as human populations increase.
Awareness and education are always an important part of wildlife conservation. Stopping the bushmeat trade and intensive logging in critical great ape habitat are first steps to saving these primate species. Helping the humans who share that habitat is another.