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A good week for great apes
At the urging of renowned naturalist Jane Goodall, the U.S government has endorsed two measures that will better protect the world's great apes.
The Great Ape Conservation Act, written by Sen. George Miller (D, California), cleared the Senate Friday. The bill, which creates an annual federal fund of up to $5 million for conservation research, now heads to the White House, where President Clinton is expected to s ign the measure into law within the next two weeks.
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed legislation that could help establish chimpanzee sanctuaries for the animals after they are no longer needed for biomedical research.
The measure would earmark up to $30 million to establish the centers. Once admitted to the proposed sanctuaries, the chimps would not be subject to further invasive research.
"I think it is great for the U.S. government to be saying that, while we don't have wild apes in our country, we see their value as a population," said Christina Ellis, Congo Basin Project coordinator for the Jane Goodall Institute. "Not only will the money support conservation projects in the field, but it will also improve the status of chimps we have benefited from in our own country."
As a result of habitat destruction and the bushmeat trade, the world's great apes are vanishing. Bushmeat hunting the killing of apes and other forest mammals for human consumption has been practiced on a subsistence level for centuries by forest dwellers. But the recent influx of loggers to the rain forest and increased access to remote areas via logging roads has transformed bushmeat hunting into a commercial venture.
The Congo Basin Project, which aims to stem the bushmeat trade by looking at community development and the logging industry as a whole, has not yet received funding, Ellis said. The project is one of many local conservation programs that likely will be considered for funding from the Great Ape Conservation Act.
"The bushmeat crisis now poses the gravest threat to long-term survival of a number of species, including monkeys, duikers and the highly endangered great apes gorillas, bonobos, and, of course, chimpanzees," Goodall wrote in a recent editorial that appeared in the Washington Post.
"For me personally this crisis is particularly shocking. At the turn of the last century, there were some 2 million wild chimpanzees in Africa. When I began my chimpanzee research in 1960, there must still have been way over a million. Today it is estimated that there are, at most, 150,000 chimpanzees remaining probably no more than 120,000. And, for other primates, the situation is even more alarming."
A recent report by Conservation International and the World Conservation Union's Species Survival Commission warns that 25 species of apes, monkeys, lemurs and other primates are on the brink of extinction. Bushmeat hunting and the destruction of tropical forest habitat are the chief causes for the alarming decline, according to the report.
"We need to continue to increase the awareness to the general public, and in particular to the administration and the Congress of this country, because here there is great power," Goodall said in May at a Capitol Hill event on the bushmeat crisis. "It’s very important that more and more people begin to know so that more and more people can sit around and use their brains, their minds, to solve a problem of such terrifying proportions. The more I think about this problem, the more terrifying I find it."
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