Access to the internet creates some of the strangest juxtapositions. This morning once I could log on—a three-hour hit and miss ordeal—an email from WWF-US was waiting. It announced, “The number of gorillas and chimpanzees in Central Africa continues to decline due to poaching, habitat loss and disease according to a new plan published by WWF, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Wildlife Conservation Society and partners.”
The document, “Regional Action Plan for the Conservation of Western Lowland Gorillas and Central Chimpanzees 2015-2025” hit me in the face like a brick. I will not claim to be the smartest person in the world, nor do I understand everything the first time I read it. So I read everything in the release twice and downloaded the “Action Plan” and began wading in.
Juxtaposed again what I was reading was reality nearly within earshot: 50 orphaned chimps and 16 gorillas, including the only known endangered Cross River gorilla in captivity, all victims of the illegal ape bushmeat trade in Cameroon. Layer that on top of a meeting yesterday afternoon with former bushmeat hunters, and my take away is? We don’t need an “Action Plan” we desperately need a plan of action.
The WWF-US announcement further read, “While national and international laws protect the critically endangered western lowland gorilla and the endangered central chimpanzee,…” the only word that comes to mind is bullshit! WWF stop pedaling crap. Not one of those countries whose flags prominently color the front of the IUCN report protect their great apes. And by “international laws” I assume you mean CITES and its member signators (previously mentioned flags included) one only has to look at the number of apes that have exited Africa for China in recent years to know that’s a joke. By the own agency’s (GRASP-UNEP) publication in 2013 that’s a joke — please read “Stolen Apes”. Nothing has changed, except the printing of another report.
Bullshit is a crude word. A more articulate, diplomatic response could be crafted. But also crude is the rope around an orphan chimps waist, applied as an infant and not removed until rescue at three – the flesh growing over the rope, infected and full of maggots. Crude is the proposed devastation of 40-50,000 hectares of rainforest, its wildlife, including chimps and the villages living around it, for yet another palm oil plantation. And to these, and many other real world situations great apes face, being more articulate and diplomatic is failing to change anything.
And words can be deceiving, “Central African governments have demonstrated increased willingness to protect the dwindling populations of gorillas and chimpanzees,” said David Greer, WWF’s Great Apes Programme Manager. “Now bold steps are needed to ensure that existing wildlife laws are upheld and that weak governance, which results in widespread impunity for wildlife traffickers, is eliminated, to give great apes the opportunity to survive and thrive.” If by Central Africa you mean Rwanda and Uganda, yes, agreed, they have shown great willingness because they are making hundreds of millions on mountain gorillas. But this plan is focused on Central Congo Basin Africa – places like the Rep. of Congo, Cameroon, DRC. and CAR all of which demonstrated no interest in protecting dwindling populations of gorillas and chimpanzees.
And why weren’t there any “bold steps” included in this plan? Because as you read this plan you realize despite all the energy that went into it the authors are clueless with statements like, “Conservation strategies and actions must be designed to respond to these pressures and to maintain great ape populations at their present numbers.” Great apes can never ever be maintained at their present numbers. It’s pure lunacy to think otherwise. First, no one has an accurate clue as to what the numbers are (the below images is from the GRASP website at http://www.un-grasp.org/great-apes/chimpanzees/ and illustrates that even for the most endangered of the Central Africa chimps the estimate is merely a guestimate, and second, in the time it took to read the plan’s executive summary (one page) estimates are half a hectare of rainforest, great ape habitat much of it, was lost to illegal logging.
As I said to the bushmeat hunters yesterday afternoon under dark, rain-filled sky in Batoke village, near the base of Mt Cameroon – where wild chimpanzees still survive – I don’t have all the answers, in fact I have very few, but at least I recognize that and I’m on a journey to find some. And that’s all I’m asking of WWF and all the rest, quit spreading your donor feel-good pixie dust of hope. Start finding real answers. Great apes are dying and habitat is being lost while you release another new action plan without teeth.
Come up with a plan of action.