November 2012: Faced with declining wild ape populations and dwindling forests, the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) set law enforcement, habitat protection and political advocacy among its top priorities and emerged with renewed energy and urgency following the 2nd GRASP Council that was held 6-8 November at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.
The GRASP Council is comprised of over 80 nations, conservation organizations, United Nations agencies, research institutions and private supporters committed to the long-term survival of great apes in Africa and Asia.
The GRASP Council adopted the GRASP Priority Plan 2013-2016, which includes addressing disease threats, conflict-sensitive conservation, and Green Economy as other areas of focus.
“Great apes face an uncertain future, and it will take the collective effort of GRASP to ensure their long-term survival,” said GRASP coordinator Doug Cress. “These priorities get to the very heart of the issues that have pushed chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans so much closer to extinction. But GRASP’s partners are committed to halting the downward spiral and reversing the population and habitat losses.”
The GRASP Council also adopted a revised Global Strategy for the Conservation of Great Apes and their Habitat, and approved revised Rules for the Management of GRASP that will make the partnership more streamlined and effective.
“It is extremely important that we find a way to counter habitat loss, hunting and other forms of illegal killing of great apes.” said Serge Wich, chairman of the GRASP Scientific Commission. “As it is, less than half of the great apes in Africa and Asia even live in protected areas. Most survive in degraded areas or secondary forests that leave them very vulnerable. Hunting and other forms of great ape killing are also widespread and need to be addressed as well. The other main threat to great apes is disease.”
Wild ape populations have been devastated by widespread habitat loss as a result of deforestation, mining, illegal logging, human encroachment, and conversion for agricultural development. A report issued at the 2nd GRASP Council indicated that great apes lose an average of 1.2% percent of their suitable habitat each year.
Illegal trade has also severely impacted great apes, resulting in the illicit traffic of hundreds from Africa and Asia each year into the pet trade. Preliminary results from a GRASP survey of illegal trade found that 576 orphaned great apes reached a sanctuary or rehabilitation center from 2005 to 2011, a number compounded by the fact that many apes are often killed to secure a single infant.
The lack of law enforcement and judicial rigor – only a tiny percentage of those arrivals resulted in an arrest, let alone a conviction – exacerbates the problem.
“The illegal trade of great apes is not rooted in poverty, but rather in corruption and power,” said Ofir Drori, founder of the Last Great Ape Organization (LAGA), who called for deterrent convictions in both range States and implicated non-range States.
The GRASP Council also elected a new GRASP Executive Committee, and agreed to stage council meetings on a biennial basis.
The 2nd GRASP Council featured daily plenary sessions devoted to key issues regarding great ape conservation, including “Great Apes & Illegal Trade,” “Great Apes & Green Economy,” and “Great Apes & technology.”
GRASP was established in 2001 to respond to the conservation crisis facing great apes and lift the threat of imminent extinction by focusing on international policy, funding, research, and media. For information on GRASP, please visit www.un-grasp.org.