- Chimpanzees, humans' closest relatives, will face extinction within fifty years if the current rate of habitat destruction and hunting continues, a new study shows. Worst off is the Nigerian-Cameroonian subspecies - one in four - which is in rapid decline. Scientists give the chimp race only two more decades if nothing is done.
The Pan African Sanctuaries Alliance (Pasa) on Monday presented these preliminary research results at a press conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. The environmentalist group, which operates chimp sanctuaries all over Africa, had hired scientists to look into the survival possibilities of great ape species and its subspecies.
While the situation was found to be alarming for the chimpanzees at large, the most worrying situation is found in eastern Nigeria and Cameroon. Only about 8000 chimp individuals of the Nigeria-Cameroon subspecies are still living in the forests here, mostly on the Nigerian side of the border. At the current rate of their population's decline, the subspecies will face extinction within two decades.
According to the Pasa study, the Nigerian-Cameroonian chimp is facing an increasingly tougher fight for its survival. Its habitat is constantly declining by deforestation, new roads and encroachment of human settlements. Bush meat hunters are closing in to the chimps' last sanctuaries and diseases are flourishing as their habitat gets more concentrated.
While the Nigerian-Cameroonian subspecies is the most threatened, the three remaining subspecies also could face extinction within 50 years, Pasa warns. The Western subspecies, found in Côte d'Ivoire and westwards to Sierra Leone, is equally threatened. The Central subspecies, found from Gabon to Congo Kinshasa, is only partly better off. The Eastern subspecies, found from Tanzania to southern Sudan, remains the most viable race.
Pasa is an alliance of sixteen primate sanctuaries from all over Africa, created as a "crisis management" measure to host mostly orphaned chimps and other great apes. The sanctuaries also take care of injured, confiscated or otherwise unwanted apes. The grouping therefore has access to statistics on how many injured and orphaned chimps that are brought to sanctuaries all over the continent.
Professor Norm Rosen - an anthropologist with California State University in Fullerton who coordinates the ongoing Pasa study - assesses that for every orphaned chimp reaching the sanctuaries, ten animals have been killed. "The situation is much more critical than we thought," Mr Rosen commented the study in Johannesburg.
Currently, the sanctuaries organised by Pasa are housing an estimated total of 670 chimps, representing a 50 percent increase only during the last three years. This growth in orphaned and injured chimps had caused concern in the grouping and contributing to the ordering of the ongoing study.
Pasa was formed as an alliance in 2000 to coordinate the conservation work being done all over Africa. As the sanctuaries have "emerged on an ad-hoc basis resulting in crisis management," there had been a need for general guidelines for the establishment of authorities, management practices, primate management and health issues, according to Pasa.
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