Di­min­ish­ing habi­tats leave great apes fac­ing ex­tinc­tion

Bri­tish sci­en­tist Jane Goodall has spent over five decades study­ing man’s clos­est rel­a­tives, and she is con­vinced that un­less rad­i­cal changes are made to the way we look af­ter our planet and it’s coin­hab­i­tants, we will lose them for good.

Outlook - - ENVIRONMENT - By Peter Martell

The world's great apes face ex­tinc­tion within decades, renowned chim­panzee ex­pert Jane Goodall warned Tues­day in a call to arms to en­sure man's clos­est rel­a­tives are not wiped out.

"If we don't take ac­tion the great apes will dis­ap­pear, be­cause of both habi­tat de­struc­tion as well as traf­fick­ing," Goodall told AFP in an in­ter­view in Nairobi.

In the past half cen­tury, chim­panzee num­bers have slumped from two mil­lion to just 300,000, spread over 21 coun­tries, said Goodall, a Bri­tish sci­en­tist who spent more than five decades study­ing chim­panzees in Tan­za­nia's Gombe Na­tional Park.

"If we don't change some­thing, they cer­tainly will dis­ap­pear, or be left in tiny pock­ets where they will strug­gle from in-breed­ing," said 80-year-old Goodall, the first sci­en­tist to ob­serve that apes as well as hu­mans use tools.

Ex­perts pre­dict that at the cur­rent rate, hu­man devel­op­ment will have im­pacted 90 per­cent of the apes' habi­tat in Africa and 99 per­cent in Asia by 2030, ac­cord­ing to a UN-backed re­port last month.

In­fra­struc­ture devel­op­ment and ex­trac­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources - in­clud­ing tim­ber, min­er­als, oil and gas - have dev­as­tated the prime habi­tat of apes and pushed chim­panzees, go­ril­las, bono­bos, orang­utans and gib­bons closer to ex­tinc­tion.

'We're schizophrenic'

For Goodall, the de­struc­tion is part of mankind's wider at­tack on na­ture.

"If we don't do any­thing to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment, which we've al­ready par­tially de­stroyed, I wouldn't want to be a child be­ing born in 50 years time," Goodall added.

"We're schizophrenic: we've got this amaz­ing in­tel­li­gence, but we seem to have lost the power of work­ing in har­mony with na­ture."

As well as a tragic loss, Goodall said the death of man's closet rel­a­tives would act as a stark warn­ing sign of cli­mate change and global warm­ing.

"If we lose them (apes), it is prob­a­bly be­cause we have also lost the forests, and that would have a to­tally dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on cli­mate change," she said.

"Cli­mate change is so ev­i­dent ev­ery­where. There are lead­ers who say they don't be­lieve in cli­mate change, but I can't be­lieve they re­ally be­lieve that, maybe they are just stupid."

All species of apes are listed as en­dan­gered by the In­ter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture (IUCN), some crit­i­cally so.

'Your life makes a dif­fer­ence'

"Peo­ple are los­ing the con­nec­tion to the nat­u­ral world," said Goodall.

"You'd think that the most in­tel­lec­tual crea­ture on the planet would know bet­ter than to de­stroy its only home, but we are de­stroy­ing the planet very, very quickly."

But Goodall, who has set up vol­un­teer con­ser­va­tion groups across the con­ti­nent, urges peo­ple not to de­spair but to take ac­tion.

"Cli­mate change threat­ens ev­ery lit­tle part of the planet, and we can't stop that, but if we get to­gether we can help to slow the ef­fects," she said.

Goodall re­counted how in war­rav­aged east­ern Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, chil­dren in­spired by her con­ser­va­tion group ne­go­ti­ated with a lo­cal mili­tia force, per­suad­ing the in­tially puz­zled com­man­der to give them ac­cess to re­plant trees on a hill­side.

"Within 30 min­utes, all four sol­diers with them had laid aside their guns and were help­ing the chil­dren to plant the trees," she said. "It is sym­bolic of what can hap­pen if we can work to­gether."

"My last mes­sage to ev­ery­body, re­ally, is to un­der­stand that your life mat­ters, your life makes a dif­fer­ence," she said.

"So many peo­ple give up and they feel hope­less... and so do noth­ing. But if you take ac­tion lo­cally, you can do some­thing."

A fe­male chim­panzee holds a young­ster

dur­ing a press pre­sen­ta­ton at the

Leipzig Zoo.

Bri­tish pri­ma­tol­o­gist and con­ser­va­tion­ist Jane Goodall.

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