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Catastrophic decline of Africa's apes, Nature says

Scientists say chimps and gorillas now 'critically endangered'

NEW YORK, N.Y. -- Scientists from the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, Princeton University and other organizations have reported in the latest issue of the journal Nature that a dramatic decline of gorillas and chimpanzees is taking place in western equatorial Africa, the last stronghold for great apes on the continent. Ravaged first by a wave of commercial hunting, and more recently by an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, gorillas and chimpanzees could be pushed to the brink of extinction during the next decade without immediate protective measures, scientists warn.

Looking at populations in the central African nation of Gabon, which still retains 80 percent of its forest cover, scientists discovered a 56 percent drop in chimpanzee and gorilla numbers had taken place between 1983 and 2000. Such a decline justifies that both species should be reclassified from "endangered" to "critically endangered" according to World Conservation Union criteria, the authors of the study say.

"This is a catastrophic decline of great apes in an area that contains the bulk of the world's remaining populations. If chimps and gorillas continue to disappear at the current rate, our closest relatives will be confined to a few small pockets in a matter of years," said the paper's lead author, Dr. Peter Walsh, a WCS biologist based at Princeton University.

"If chimpanzees and gorillas are in trouble in Gabon, an area known for its pristine, unbroken forests, than we have a species-wide crisis on our hands when it comes to saving these animals," said WCS conservationist Dr. Lee White, who has worked in Gabon for the past decade. Dr. Walsh and his colleagues say that aggressive investments in Ebola prevention, law enforcement and protected area management are needed to ensure the survival of these two species. The head of WCS's Field Veterinary Program, Dr. Willia
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Contact: Stephen Sautner
ssautner@wcs.org
718-220-3682
Wildlife Conservation Society
6-Apr-2003


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