Lagos — International Union for Conservation of Nature ( IUCN) has said that 96 per cent of known populations of eastern chimpanzees, an estimated 50,000 individuals, could be protected with a new action plan, which puts stamping out illegal hunting and trafficking as key to saving one of man’s closest relatives.
IUCN, in press statement signed by Leigh Ann Hurt, IUCN Species Programme Communications Officer and John Dekaney of Wildlife Conservation Society(WCS), stated that countries of East and Central Africa have developed a 10-year plan to save the eastern chimpanzee from hunting, habitat loss, disease, capture of infants for the pet trade and other threats.
IUCN noted that the eastern chimpanzee is currently classified as endangered on IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, and lives in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Zambia.
According to IUCN, Eastern chimpanzees share an estimated 98 percent of genes with Homo sapiens and are among the best studied of the great apes.
The action plan tagged, Eastern Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii): Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan: 2010-2020 calls for the conservation of 16 areas, which if protected would conserve 96% of the known populations of eastern chimpanzees, estimated to be around 50,000. However, the total number could be as high as 200,000, almost double the estimates that have been made previously.
“We know about the distribution and abundance of only a quarter of the world population of the eastern chimpanzee”, says Dr. Liz Williamson, IUCN’s Species Survival Commission Great Ape Coordinator. “There are large areas of the Congo basin where we know very little about this ape. The plan identifies key areas for future surveys that are likely to be of importance for chimpanzees.”
“This effort to assess the status of eastern chimpanzees will help us to focus our conservation actions more effectively,” says Dr. Andrew Plumptre, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Albertine Rift Program and the plan’s lead author. “In the next decade, we hope to minimize the threats to these populations and the ecological and cultural diversity they support.”
IUCN noted that in addition to targeting two of the greatest threats to the species, illegal hunting and trafficking, other objectives include reducing the rate of forest loss in chimpanzee habitats; increasing knowledge of chimpanzee distribution, status, and threats; improving the understanding of health risks to chimpanzee populations, including human-transmitted diseases; increasing community support for chimpanzee conservation; and, securing sustainable financing for chimpanzee conservation units.
“The plan will require considerable support from the global community but will ensure the continued survival of eastern chimpanzees in their natural habitats,” says Dr. James Deutsch of the WCS’s Africa Program. “The conservation of wild populations is important not only for conservation, but also for the survival of chimpanzee cultures in the region that are invaluable to helping us define our own place within the natural realm.”