An action plan drafted by more than 70 primatologists and other experts who met in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, in May designates 12 areas for emergency programs intended to increase security against illegal hunting, protect great apes and tropical forests from logging, and slow the spread of the Ebola virus in the region.
Called the Regional Action Plan for Conservation of Chimpanzees and Gorillas in Western Equatorial Africa, the document seeks a multilateral response to the threats to populations of the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and the central African chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) that share the same habitat in six countries.
The plan represents an urgent appeal to the international community for immediate action, before the damage is irreversible.
While the experts were unable to establish precise population figures for the gorillas and chimpanzees, they determined that recent Ebola outbreaks, bushmeat hunting and logging have almost wiped out some populations. The action plan noted that apes reproduce slowly, with limited capacity to recover from decimated populations.
"This devastating mix of threats leaves us on the brink of losing some of our closest living relatives," said Russell A. Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and chairman of the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN-The World Conservation Union's Species Survival Commission. ''Protecting gorillas and chimps is not just important in its own right. These animals are also flagship species, important symbols for vast areas of forest that are among the richest on Earth. Protecting them protects many other species as well."