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Poaching, Logging, And Outbreaks Of Ebola Threaten Central African Gorillas And Chimpanzees

Washington, DC (Aug. 30, 2005) -- A combination of natural and man-madethreats is killing gorillas and chimpanzees in Central Africa, and experts say $30 million is needed for special programs to save some of mankind's closest relatives from disappearing.

An action plan drafted by more than 70 primatologists and other experts who met in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, in May designates 12 areas for emergency programs intended to increase security againstillegal hunting, protect great apes and tropical forests from logging,and slow the spread of the Ebola virus in the region.

Called the Regional Action Plan for Conservation of Chimpanzeesand Gorillas in Western Equatorial Africa, the document seeks amultilateral response to the threats to populations of the westernlowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and the central Africanchimpanzee (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) that share the same habitat insix countries.

The plan represents an urgent appeal to the international community for immediate action, before the damage is irreversible.

While the experts were unable to establish precise population figuresfor the gorillas and chimpanzees, they determined that recent Ebolaoutbreaks, bushmeat hunting and logging have almost wiped out somepopulations. The action plan noted that apes reproduce slowly, withlimited capacity to recover from decimated populations.

"This devastating mix of threats leaves us on the brink of losing someof our closest living relatives," said Russell A. Mittermeier,president of Conservation International and chairman of the PrimateSpecialist Group of IUCN-The World Conservation Union's SpeciesSurvival Commission. ''Protecting gorillas and chimps is not justimportant in its own right. These animals are also flagship species,important symbols for vast areas of forest that are among the richeston Earth. Protecting them protects many other species as well."

The continuing spread of the Ebola virus through the region is aparticular threat, with devastating effects on ape populations. Ebolaspreads through contact with blood and other body fluids, puttingbushmeat hunters and others who might handle carcasses of infectedanimals at risk.

"If we find ways to protect apes from the Ebola virus, we also will protect humans," the action plan concludes.

The action plan designated 12 sites in five countries - Cameroon,Gabon, Congo, Central African Republic, and Equatorial Guinea - thatrequire immediate help. Seven "exceptional sites" have ape populationsexceeding 2,000 in a large area (8,232 to 41,900 square kilometres),while five "important sites" have ape populations of 500 to 2000individuals in a site covering 1,219 to 9,011 square kilometres. Twoother areas labelled "priority survey sites" have known ape populationsthat require additional study to assess the numbers and determineboundaries to promote ape conservation.

"New types of collaborations are going to be needed, as the fate ofapes in Central Africa relies not only on addressing the typical issuesof poaching and habitat destruction, but also the problems of the rapidspread of disease," said Christophe Boesch of the Wild ChimpanzeeFoundation, an author of the action plan.

According to the action plan, a series of programs needed to haltdeclines in ape populations will cost just under $30 million. Themeasures include anti-poaching activities, improved monitoring andresponse to Ebola outbreaks, increased training, and tourismdevelopment.

"As dire as the threats are to the survival of great apes, it'simportant for the world to know that this is not a lost cause," saidEmma Stokes of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Congo Program,another author of the action plan. "It will take a tremendous amount ofwork and dedication from a variety of conservation groups, governmentagencies and donors, but we still have a chance to save these animals."

The Brazzaville meeting was organized by the Centre International de Recherches Médicales deFranceville (CIRMF), Conservation International (CI), the WildChimpanzee Foundation (WCF), and the Wildlife Conservation Society(WCS). Additional funding came from the Great Ape Conservation Fund ofthe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the UNEP/UNESCO Great ApeSurvival Project (GRASP), the Cleveland Park Zoo, the Primate ActionFund, and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Conservation International. August 2005.

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