On the Survival of Great Apes and Their Habitat


The nonhuman Great Apes—gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos, and orangutans—are the primates genetically closest to humans, fellow members of the hominid family (hominidae). They share more than 96 percent of human DNA (more than 98 percent for chimpanzees). That relatedness, along with many similarities on such dimensions as intelligence, self-awareness, social organization, and behavior, has argued for according them a special status among nonhuman animals—even, in the view of some ethicists, for placing them in the same moral community as humans. (One statement of this position, the Declaration on Great Apes, calls for “the extension of the community of equals to include all great apes: human beings, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orang-utans”—at a minimum with protection of life and liberty and prohibition of deliberate infliction of pain. See «http://www.greatapeproject.org» and «http://www.personhood.org/main/org.html.») Advocates for this status point out that past exclusions of particular human groups from moral consider ability were based on what now are seen as wholly invidious arguments.

Extinction would render such debate futile. All great ape populations except humans are in steep decline as a result of loss and fragmentation of their natural habitat (tropical rainforests in Central Africa and Southeast Asia) and in some regions armed poaching and hunting for bushmeat. Bonobos (DR Congo), mountain gorillas (areas bordering Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo), and orangutans (Sumatra and Borneo) are especially endangered. Since 2001 conservation efforts have been coordinated by the Great Ape Survival Project (GRASP), which brings together representatives of the 23 countries with great ape populations, the UN Environment Programme, and some NGOs. The first ministerial meeting of GRASP was held in Kinshasa in September 2005. It issued the Kinshasa Declaration on Great Apes. A more operational document that also emerged from Kinshasa was the Global Strategy for the Survival of Great Apes and Their Habitat. An annex to this document, providing information on the present status of great ape populations, is reproduced in part below. (The omitted section describes the conservation activities of various UN bodies.) The Kinshasa meeting materials can be found at «http://www.unep.org/grasp/Meetings/IGMkinshasa/Outcomes/index-reports.asp».