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Goodall Warns World Chimpanzee Population Plummets

Dr Jane Goodall Warns Against "Tragedy" Of Losing Man's Closest Relative As World Chimpanzee Population Plummets

New Action Plan outlines the measures needed to save the West African chimpanzee from extinction Gland, Switzerland and Washington DC, US. 16.02.04 (IUCN and Conservation International) - More than any other species, chimpanzees resemble humans - genetically, behaviourally and physically - and therefore provide an important link to our evolutionary history. Yet their numbers have plummeted and the species faces imminent extinction. Leading scientists and conservationists around the world have worked together to produce a new action plan aimed at reversing the fortune of the species.

The plan offers the most up-to-date information on the status and threats to chimpanzees and identifies conservation priorities at the national and regional level. It has been produced jointly by the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN's Species Survival Commission and the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science at Conservation International. At the beginning of the 20th century there were between one and two million chimpanzees living in 25 African countries. Even in 1960 when Dr Jane Goodall began her famous research in Tanzania, there were thought to be at least a million. Today only some 150,000 are thought to remain.

This dramatic reduction in numbers is due to habitat destruction as human populations grow and move into new areas, trapping, disease (chimpanzees are susceptible to many human infectious diseases) and, most recently, the bushmeat trade and ebola outbreak. Chimpanzees, like the other great apes, are slow breeders which makes it difficult for their populations to "bounce back" if and when threats are removed.

Chimpanzee behaviour resembles that of humans in many ways: the long term bonds between family members; the long period of dependency on the mother; their gestures such as embracing, kissing, patting one another on the back, swaggering, and shaking their fists; their intellectual abilities, which include making and using primitive tools; and the expression of emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, fear, or despair.

"It will indeed be tragic if we do not prevent their extinction," says Dr Goodall in the publication's foreword. All four subspecies of chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The new publication, West African Chimpanzees: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan focuses on the western chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes verus) which has an estimated population of 38,000.

Together with the Nigeria chimpanzee it is considered at greatest risk of extinction. The subspecies has already disappeared from two countries and could soon disappear from a further five where national populations are thought to be smaller than 1,000 individuals.

The measures outlined in the plan represent a consensus among the professionals from government agencies of countries with chimpanzee populations, research scientists, protected area managers, natural resources managers, and experts from non-governmental organizations working in West Africa. Efforts to protect chimpanzees will require unprecedented collaboration between these groups.

More detailed aims of the publication are to guide donors to where further investment is needed, researchers and conservationists to where and how they should be concentrating their efforts, and development organizations on how to ensure their actions do not adversely affect chimpanzee populations.

The plan will help implementation of the UNEP-UNESCO Great Apes Survival Project. There are many problems to overcome, such as the different languages spoken in the region and the need for collaboration between police and customs officials at border crossings between countries. Many of the range countries suffer frequent political instability and the ensuing humanitarian crises may overshadow conservation efforts. In most countries, approximately 45-81% of the surviving chimpanzee populations exist outside designated protected areas. It is necessary to increase the number and size of these areas and provide adequate infrastructures to ensure they are adequately protected.

The Action Plan states the importance of involving local governments and local people, in all areas, in proposed conservation plans. In some areas this will be easy, as chimpanzees play an important role in the cultures of some tribes who consider chimpanzees sacred. The fate of the chimpanzees ultimately rests in the hands of the people in whose country they live, but financial help must come from western countries, the plan says.

West African Chimpanzees: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan can be ordered from: IUCN Publications Services Unit 219c Huntingdon Road, Cambridge CB3 0DL, United Kingdom Tel: +44 1223 277894, Fax: +44 1223 277175 E-mail:

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