There are three main culprits devastating ape habitats and moving them towards extinction: global development, increasing infrastructure and extraction industries, e.g. timber, oil, minerals and gas. An offshoot of mining for natural resources is the development of roads and railways, which further destroy ape habitats.
It’s not just any apes, either. Many of the apes affected by exploitative extraction practices are supposed to be protected under the Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, gibbons and bonobos are particularly vulnerable since their habitats intersect the sought-after natural resources.
A new report, “State of the Apes: Extractive Industries and Ape Conservation,” by The Arcus Foundation highlighted that the exploitation doesn’t appear to be slowing down at all, even though some of the animals are critically endangered. By 2030, “Experts predict that at the current rate, human development will have impacted 90 percent of the apes’ habitat in Africa and 99% in Asia.”
Other Threats to Apes
Human development isn’t exclusively to blame, although some other threats they face are still caused by people.
Like humans, apes are also trafficked. As reported in The Japan Times, the “multimillion dollar illegal trade” is comparable to ‘slavery.’ Extensive criminal networks in bed with corrupt authorities drive the trade. Many of the animals will become pets or performers.
The Japan Times cites a U.N. and Interpol report that found that between 2005 and 2011, 22,000 great apes had been ‘enslaved,’ but many more must have been killed in the process since “to capture one infant ape, as many as 10 apes are ruthlessly killed.”
The spread of infectious diseases is also killing the great apes. As reported in Mongabay, ecotourism, the logging industry and shrinking habitats are bringing apes in closer proximity to us and to each other. This proximity increases the likelihood of a disease epidemic; apes are especially vulnerable to diseases like ebola, scabies, tuberculosis, mange and measles.
Infectious disease could put a damper on even the best of news. As reported in National Geographic, Rwanda’s mountain gorillas’ numbers are ‘bouncing back.’ In 1981, there was “an all-time low of 254 individuals” in the region. Today, there are only 880 left on Earth, but they are in two isolated groups.
The Gorilla Doctors’ regional manager, Jan Ramer, told National Geographic that vigilance is still required despite the increasing numbers because “if an infectious disease — for example, measles — raged through, it could decimate the population.”
How to Save the Apes
According to the Population Reference Bureau, there are still ways that we can help protect the endangered apes and gibbons:
- Reducing the number (and proximity) of tourists who want to observe the animals in the wild. This will protect them from human-to-animal infectious diseases that they can catch.
- Focusing on ways to monetarily support the local communities that live near ape habitats. This way, local communities won’t resort to hunting the apes and selling the animals — dead or alive. For example, according to The Jane Goodall Institute of Canada, “A [bushmeat] hunter can earn approximately $300-$1000 annually.” This type of money isn’t common in many local communities, so alternative sources of income would help.
- Continuing conservation, education and scientific initiatives related to apes and gibbons.
- Consuming fewer products and materials that create the demand for exploitative extraction. For instance, not buying palm oil products, in order to help save the orangutans.
Photo Credit: Derek Keats