Apes Endangered

By Cynthia Kirk

This is the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

Great apes are the animals most like humans. Experts say that great apes in the forests of Africa and Asia will disappear within ten years if nothing is done to save them. The United Nations Environment Program has begun a campaign called the Great Ape Survival Project.

Its members are working with wildlife groups and non-governmental organizations. Their goal to prevent the disappearance of gorillas, bonobos, chimpanzees and orangutans. The project targets areas in Africa and southeast Asia where apes are threatened by war, environmental destruction and hunting.

Ten years ago, there were more than six-hundred mountain gorillas in eastern and central Africa. Today, there are only about three-hundred. They are disappearing from forests in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Many of them are being killed for food as part of the growing illegal bush-meat trade.

Congo was once a safe area for gorillas. But years of war and forest destruction have made the gorillas easier targets for hunters. Miners searching for minerals also hunt the great apes. The gorillas that are left have to be protected by armed soldiers in national parks.

Bonobos are small apes found only in the forests of Congo. Twenty years ago, there were about one-hundred-thousand bonobos. There are only about three-thousand today. Some bonobos have fled to nearby countries. Most of them are being hunted for food.

Many chimpanzees have died out in countries where they once lived. Fifty years ago, there were millions of chimpanzees across western and central Africa. Today, only about one-hundred-fifty-thousand chimpanzees remain.

The orangutan is endangered in Indonesia's rainforests. The rainforests are shrinking because of farming, cutting down trees and gold mining in protected areas.

Environmental experts say apes need more protection in national parks. They say local people need to be educated about the value of apes and their importance to the environmental system. Experts say the apes are important for scientific study because they are so closely related to humans.

United Nations officials say they need one-million dollars to support the Great Ape Survival Project. They want private companies to assist in the campaign.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk.