The Apes’ World is Shrinking, and So are Their Numbers

Scientists are worried about the fast and “unsustainable exploitation” of natural resources affecting apes’ habitats, especially in Africa and in Asia, reports The Guardian.

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


Jim Ven
Jim V2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Marion Friedl
Marion Friedl2 years ago

I once watched a docu from Hannes Jaenicke, a German actor and animal activist, about the Orang Utans in Borneo, those poor primates are even sold to pleasurdomes, those pimps shave all their hair, then chain the poor Orangs to beds and then the "visitors" may rape them the way they want to, it broke my heart when I heard about those facts, some of the primates who´re kept as pets may be loved and get good care, but they´re still wild animals who belong to their wild habitats, and if they´ve grown too big they´re dumped or even killed, or they´re sold as bushmeat (in Africa in the main), when will humans finally learn that to respecat all living beings, and especially also our relatives??? :'(

Christine Jones
Christine J3 years ago

Human overpopulation is the cause of most problems with animals and the environment. Until we curb this, we're just shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic.

Christine Stewart

We need to ban the bushmeat trade!

Biby C.
Biby C3 years ago

So many battles to fight, so little time and resources......

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H3 years ago

I think no matter how you slice it, humans are responsible for all the problems. We move in take what we want, destroy, kill, capture... We need to realize the environment and wildlife have their limitations and are not replaceable. Once they are gone, they are gone. We have ruined and driven so many creatures to extinction that we should have learned by now. It is so sad how selfish we are.

I did find it ironic though that Japan/Japan times was referencing "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.” What do they think they are doing to whales? No common sense there.

Angev GERIDONI3 years ago

Thank you to all who love the animals and the planet, and who already signed the petition to protect horses from Pétropolis, if no, please help give an happy end to the sad story of those enslaved animals, and share these petitions :
1) Care 2
To know more on poor horses from Petropolis :
3) Petropolis shame‬
Thank you for sharing

Carol J.
Carol J3 years ago

Over population by humans is the cause behind all species decline. Unless we stop breeding there will be nothing left..

Maria Teresa Schollhorn

So sad.

pam w.
pam w3 years ago

ALL great apes will be gone from the ''wild'' within 25 years. It's a fact.

And we know why.