How the great apes (and maybe other endangered primates) could help local communities and conserve the planet

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

This morning the IUCN released a report on the world’s 25 most endangered primates for 2012-14, and hence needing conservation most. The list has five species from Africa, six from Madagascar, nine from Asia and five central and Southern America. Country-wise, Madagascar tops the list with six species, followed by Vietnam with five, Indonesia with three, Brazil with two and China, Colombia, Peru, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Venezuela with one each.

Primates are important to tropical forest ecosystems, says Russel Mittermeir, president of Conservation International and chair of IUCN’s primate group. They are  at risk from a slew of development and infrastructure projects that destroy their natural habitats; Eboloa virus and global warming. “There is an impending extinction crisis,” says  Mittermeir.

Gorillas and other primates need urgent conservation measures. Photo credit: Rene Nijenhuis. GRASP

There is a great example from Rwanda, on how a gorilla conservation programme that vested its ownership and management to local communities improved the economy of the communities and they now have keen interest to conserve the gorillas.  Gorillas are among the four species of great apes, the others being chimpanzees, orangutans and bonobos. Less than 800 mountain gorillas remain in the wild, and by 2030, over 90% of the great apes would be impacted by human activity, GRASP estimates.

The Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP), an alliance of UN organisations, conservation agencies, scientific instates and private organisations, started the gorilla conservation programme in Rwanda 2009.

The key to the success of the gorilla programme is that local communities were involved in its management, with roles as wardens and park managers, while other found jobs as tourist guides and drivers, Douglas Cress, GRASP programme manager coordinator, explained to me.

The gorillas were also an indicator of human health as there was risk of transmission of viruses from humans in surrounding areas to the endangered species. In the process, the local communities benefited with the setting up of health clinics.

As scientists explain, great apes can reason and communicate emotions, have mastered some forms of communication through signs and symbols; and have their own culture.  Great apes and humans share more than 96% of the genetic materials, and crucial to understanding evolution.

I am all for our endangered ancestors.

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

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