According to noted Kenyan environmentalist Richard Leakey, mankind’s closest animal relatives, the great apes, are facing extinction and need urgent action in order to survive.
Leakey said the combined threat from human population expansion, poaching for bushmeat and uncontrolled logging was such that gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans need large tracts of land fenced off for their safety. Experience in Kenya, where Leakey was head of the Wildlife Service from 1989 to 1994, showed that fencing an area dramatically reduced the population pressure and poaching.
The United Nations estimates there are some 450,000 great apes left in the world and conservationists fear they could become extinct within 10 to 15 years if no action is taken. Leakey, a paleoanthropologist, conservationist and politician who has spent a lifetime in the public eye, called on businesses and government not only to come up with money but also exert leverage to put great apes on the international agenda.
He said the poorer nations in Africa and Asia with threatened great apes could not be expected to shoulder all the cost themselves. “The world must wake up to the fact that poor countries can’t bear the financial burden and arrest their development simply because the richer countries feel sentimental,” he says.
Leakey is heading the U.N.-based Great Apes Survival Project campaign to raise a minimum of $25 million to be spent over the next three years.