New Action Plan May Save Gorillas and Chimpanzees in Africa

First Posted: Apr 07, 2015 05:26 PM EDT

The number of gorillas and chimpanzees in Central Africa is continuing to decline. Now, conservation organizations are highlighting the plight of these animals as they attempt to push forward a new conservation plan.

Several organizations, including the Wildlife Conservation Society and WWF, have outlined the growing number of threats to these great apes across six range countries. More specifically, a new study has highlighted that nearly 80 percent of great apes in the region occur outside of protected areas.

National and international laws protect the critically endangered western lowland gorilla and endangered central chimpanzee. However, both of these subspecies continue to be threatened by hunters and traders seeking to supply the illegal commercial market and demand for bush meat, particularly in urban areas.

"The rainforests of Western Equatorial Africa contain most of the world's gorillas and about one-third of all chimpanzees, and gorillas in particular are being severely and negatively impacted by human activities across their range," said Fiona Maisels, WCS conservation biologist and contributor of the new conservation plan, in a news release. "This action plan represents a multi-dimensional conservation strategy to address the myriad of threats to our closest relatives."

Building on a previous action plan, the new strategy was developed after survey data was collected between 2003 and 2013. This data revealed the great ape population density across the entire range of both western lowland gorillas and central chimpanzees.

The new plan identifies 18 landscapes as critical for the continued survival of western lowland gorillas and central chimpanzees. These landscapes cover half the geographic range of these two subspecies, yet harbor more than three quarters of the great apes remaining in the region.

"The action plan will serve as a guide for range-state governments and their conservations partners in how best to protect the region's natural heritage," said Liz Williamson, Vice Chair of the Great Ape Section of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group. "Decisions made today can ensure a brighter future for gorillas and chimpanzees, and the human communities that rely on biodiversity for their well-being."

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