Apes are a fantastic “gateway” to make people – young and old – understand that the country’s wildlife must be looked after. It is a natural resource and everybody can relate to apes and will understand the necessity to preserve wildlife. It becomes a shortcut to conservation education.
This is needed now when we are destroying our planet at a rapid speed, especially in Africa.
An Education Centre is planned at the sanctuary, which will cater for people of all ages.
The children are our future and it is important that they receive education on a level they can understand. Committed children are an essential factor for future involvement. We cannot save anything without the help of future generations.Even adults need to be educated.
There are many ways of doing this and experts will be consulted and engaged in helping to create a really good Education Centre. The Centre is needed not only for local people but also for tourists who visit the sanctuary.
People tend to think that tourists know all about conservation, protecting the environment etc, but in fact they don’t. They are often unaware of the fact that the animals and their habitats are becoming extinct. Tourists are often not aware that they can be the cause of it all, as it is the developed countries, not the African countries that craves hardwood for various products. This contributes to the deforestation of our rainforests.
The market for African hardwood is the western world. Many other products are taken out of the African rainforest to be used and consumed in the Western world. People need to be made aware how their material craving destroys other parts of the world.
There is a price to pay, and the sooner we can do something about it, the better chance we have to save what is left to save. To reach this goal we need to reach as many as possible with information and awareness. The Education Centre will be one way.
In Kenya where the bushmeat crisis is widespread, it is important to teach the local people that wildlife must not be killed. The bi-products of the bush meat in Central and Western Africa are orphaned apes. No one in East Africa eats bushmeat from apes and therefore Kenyans can relate to their difficult situation. They will be taught that it is essential to conserve their indigenous wildlife for the future, as it will bring income and benefits to their people.
The chimpanzee is our closest relative. In fact it is closer to a human being then to a gorilla. It is so closely related that a blood transfusion can be done between a human and a chimpanzee. They actually have the same blood as us, and same blood groups.
Chimpanzees can live to a very old age, the normal average age is around 50 years. However, there are individuals that have become much older in captivity, and some are still alive at the ripe age of 78. We have not discovered if female chimps have a menopause. They tend to be able to produce babies throughout their lives, which is different from the human.
A chimpanzee’s muscles are differently structured from a human and a chimpanzee, although not very tall, is extremely strong. A fully grown male chimpanzee is said to be as strong as seven well trained human men. It is quite noticeable that youngsters are much heavier then they look, and it is surprising what solid muscle mass even the very young ones consists of.
Females become sexually mature around the age of six and the males at around eight to ten years of age. Like humans, they are not fully grown when they become sexually mature. The males tend to reach maturity around the age of 15, and females around the age of twelve. Slightly earlier than humans in other words.
Twin birth occurs in chimpanzees, but is not very common. Normally, females give birth to one baby at a time. When the female gives birth to her first baby, it is always difficult for her to care for it properly, and it is not uncommon that the firstborn does not survive. It depends on what kind of mother they had. It also depends on how many births of siblings they have experienced in the group where they have acted as “nannies”, thereby gaining experience to care for a baby.
Males remain in the same group all their lives and stay close to their mother and brothers. They protect the group from other groups of chimpanzees that might attack them, and then they all work together like an army. They set up strict boundaries and are extremely protective of their territory, which they patrol daily making sure no intruders come in to compete for the food inside their territory.
Many people do not realize that the chimpanzee is a highly endangered animal today. We often see chimpanzees in zoos, and they do breed easily in captivity. The fact that they are seriously threatened in the wild is often forgotten, and instead the gorilla and bonobo takes the stage as the endangered species, which of course is also true. The fact is that ALL apes in Africa and Asia are highly endangered and will more than likely cease to exist in the wild in the next 20 years unless we do something about it.
Loss of habitat is the primary threat to chimpanzees. Their prime natural habitat is the rainforest, and it is literally disappearing around them. There are various reasons for this. One is that western world has a liking for tropical hardwood and wants rainforest trees for doors, floors, wall panels, interior of luxury yachts and furniture. The other and more recent reason is that palm oil has become a popular item, probably because it is inexpensive. The rainforest is cut down to make way for palm plantations, and the habitat is lost for the apes and all other animals living in the rainforest. The fact that rainforest and oil palms cannot co-exist is something that has been forgotten.
Some parts of Borneo and Sumatra are totally deforested, mile after mile of oil palms now grow in the plantations. If a hungry orangutan strays into a plantation it will either be killed or mutilated by the farmers. Similar situations arise today in many parts of West Africa where the rainforest gradually gives way to oil palms. The situation in Kenya is not different. The animals of the rainforest lose their habitat and are forced to look for food elsewhere. They stray into plantations and often get killed or mutilated. The conflict between humans and animals becomes prominent.
Remote areas made available for hunters
When the African rainforest is cut down, the hunters arrive with the logging companies grabbing the opportunity to hunt in areas that were too remote before new roads were built. The logging companies appreciate the hunters as they bring food for their local workers. The more lucrative meat, like apes, is smoked and taken to the cities to be sold in markets. The hunters are given free transport with the logging trucks that are heading for harbours in countries in Central and West Africa. Ape meat is considered a delicacy in these countries. It is sold to the wealthy in the cities, or exported to restaurants frequented by West and Central Africans who live in the western world. Eating ape meat is not their tradition, but it has become trend. There is only a very small population whose tradition is to eat apes, but regrettably, many people now claim it is also their tradition.
Whatever the reason, it is illegal to transport rainforest meat – bush-meat – into the western world, even though not all animals that are taken to western countries are CITES listed. However, this meat has never been tested by a veterinarian. For that reason alone it is illegal.
Bushmeat smuggled at airports
Bush-meat comes from apes, elephants and other protected animal species. Amazingly, bush meat is hardly ever confiscated at the various airports where it arrives daily in the passengers’ luggage.
Many ape families are shot and their young become the by-product of the bush-meat trade. Babies and young apes are left to be sold to illegal animal dealers, as they are worth more alive than the meat price. These young apes end up in countries where they don’t belong as pets, at zoos, circuses or in laboratories. This is how the illegal trade continues to escalate, even though there are systems that should stop this illegal trade. Clearly, they are not working.
We need to become more observant of what is happening around us, even in our own back yard and where we go on holiday. Some countries import baby apes to let tourists to take photographs with them on the beaches. When they grow older, and less cute, they are drugged and eventually killed – and another baby ape is bought for the same purpose.
These apes have short, horrible lives, and tourists can be responsible for fueling this trade. The more we help to report such incidents to local authorities and refuse to have our photos taken, the smaller the illegal trade will be. If there is no money to be made, there will be no point in keeping the animals.
It is essential to refrain from encouraging the keeping of animals whose purpose is to entertain tourists, and to report incidences to local animal welfare organizations.
Benefits for the local people
Primarily, the project will provide job opportunities for the local people. Locals will be employed and trained to be keepers, fencers and for other positions according to need.
Most local people own small pieces of land, where they grow food for themselves and their families. They depend on selling their products at the market, to get money to buy clothes and other necessary items for the family.
The Ape Project can offer local people the opportunity to grow food for the apes on a permanent basis so they can get a steady income. This will enable them to plan their expenses and save towards major expenses, such as school fees. The elderly and the widows who raise their children on their own should be given priority. It will enable them to support themselves, retain their dignity, and allow their children higher education. It is the best form of help-to self help one can give.
The project will attract many tourists who will want to buy souvenirs. Handicraft can be produced locally – anything from carvers skilfully working their products in non-tropical hardwood and recycled materials to beadwork and other items. The Project will help the local people sell their products. The carvers will be supported by the project on the condition that they have followed the proper rules and produced their carvings from non-indigenous trees. Eventually, the carvers themselves will probably proudly educate the tourists about the necessity to protect the trees.
The local people are normally very industrious and have many good ideas on products that will interest the tourists.Eventually, there will be a restaurant with employment opportunities for local people. Again, local staff will be trained for work in the restaurant.
Annie Olivercrona Founder and Director of African Apes Foundation together with Alfred Akwoch Former Minister of Wild Life, Convservation and Tourism in South Sudan