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From Dateline (October 14, 2004)

Chimps Could Be Extinct in the Next Few Decades

He’s traveled to 21 counties, most recently West Africa, studying the great apes and specifically, chimpanzees. What Norm Rosen, an anthropology research associate and part-time faculty member, has discovered is that chimps – human’s closest relatives – are in danger. In fact, there is concern that chimps could be extinct within the next 50 years.

“The situation is much more critical than we thought,” said Rosen, coordinator of a study researching chimps in West Africa.


Q: What have you found out during your travels and study?

Overall, we’ve seen a 40 to 50 percent decline in chimps over the past decade. It’s hard to come up with exact numbers because chimps tend to move deep into the forest where it’s not easy to find them. The research I’ve conducted runs parallel to studies performed by Jane Goodall. We’re both coming up with the same results: chimps are in grave danger.


Q: Based on this information, it looks like chimps could face extinction?

They will if nothing changes. The bushmeat crisis – the hunting and eating of apes – has had the greatest impact on the decline of chimps. You find this not only in Africa but in parts of South America and Asia as well. And, of course, the loss of the rainforest, chimps’ natural habitat, due to logging, also creates significant problems.


Q: Why has this reached crisis levels?

Well, you have many in Africa who are surviving on a subsistence level. Of course, they have done that for years. They go after the apes for the meat – the protein. But now villagers aren’t hunting simply to feed their families. There’s a profit motive. A virtual cottage industry has developed with villagers hunting apes so they can sell the meat to others. We believe that each year, two million metric tons of bushmeat is traded. Since there is little industry in West Africa, you can see why people live off the forest. However, it’s not sustainable and with guns, the kill rate is much higher. You are now threat-ening the entire species.



What happens to the social structure of chimp groups when one is killed?


Chimps tend to congregate in families and large groups. Hunters tend to focus on the females – particularly mothers. When you shoot the mother, you get the meat and you also get the babies that are then sold as pets. Also, when you shoot the females, the males come rushing in to protect them and they can be shot too. Some of the orphaned babies, of course, die or are found and taken to a chimp sanctuary.


Q: A chimp sanctuary? How many are there?

Each year there are more because the problem is growing. I’m currently an adviser to the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance – a group of 19 sanctuaries – that conducts research and meets regularly. We believe that for every baby chimp that is cared for in a sanctuary, five to 10 are killed or die in the wild. It’s a mathematical guesstimate, but to give you an idea of the scope of the problem, in 2001, there were 400 chimps in sanctuaries; today there are 700. If that number keeps growing at the same rate, you can see it’s only a matter of time before chimps become extinct.


Q: That’s frightening.

Yes, it gets even worse. Many dis-eases are first identified in chimps. And because we are such close relatives, we can pass diseases back and forth. Chimps have something called SIV – simian immunodeficiency virus – that’s very close to HIV. Chimps and gorillas also are carriers of Ebola. However, chimps have something that allows them to carry SIV without dying. We want to study chimps to see what’s going on because it could help AIDS research with humans.

However, people who eat bushmeat taint-ed by SIV develop HIV. Eating bushmeat worsens the AIDS crisis in Africa.


Q: So what is the solution?

Well, you can look at other areas of Africa and see what they’re doing. In many places tourism has become a profitable business. By protecting the land and animals, people are able to survive. In Kenya, for instance, 37 percent of the country’s income is derived from tourism. Uganda and Rwanda have programs to help people see mountain gorillas. And in Tanzania, there are tours so people see the beauty of the rainforest – and chimps!

In many parts of Africa there also has to be more attention on protecting national parks and reserves. Protecting these areas simply isn’t a priority for many nations. Until it becomes a priority, hunting will continue in the parks.

Of course, the bigger problem is develop-ing an appreciation of conservation. But as we witness global warming, continued deforestation and the extinction of plants and animals – many of whom may carry the keys to helping us prevent or cure disease – we will continue to see species threatened.