A United Nations campaign to halt the slide towards extinction of one of human-kind’s closest relatives gained moment today with troupe of skaters in ape disguise taking to the rink at London’s Natural History Museum, highlighting the them ‘Gorillas on Thin Ice.’
The event is part of the launch of the UN Environment Programme's (UNEP) international Year of the Gorilla (YoG) in the United Kingdom, a project aimed at raising awareness and boosting protection of the great ape and its habitat by increasing the livelihoods and incomes of local people from managing their conservation. Many experts warn that without urgent action gorillas will become extinct in the wild within the next few decades.
“The world is currently going through a sixth wave of extinctions, so it not just gorillas that are skating on thin ice - you could put a whole menagerie out there today on the Natural History Museum rink from Iberian Lynx and Cuban crocodile to the La Palma Giant Lizard and the Rameshwaram Parachute Spider,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said.
“Thus in supporting the Year of the Gorilla countries, companies and citizens will not only be acting to save important high-profile species, but also a rich array of forest biodiversity upon which many people depend; biodiversity too that may hold the clue to breakthroughs in pharmaceuticals and improved crops to new kinds of smart materials and processes that will be urgently needed for a sustainable 21st century.”
Projects being drawn up by the UNEP Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (UNEP/CMS) – all in need of government and corporate support – aim at boosting the prospects for the Cross River Gorilla which is Africa's rarest ape.
“Gorillas play a crucial role in maintaining the tropical rainforests in Africa, which are one of the key pillars of a world climate in balance,” CMS Executive Secretary Robert Hepworth said. “The future of these forests depends on gorillas who plant the seeds for the next generation of trees. The Year of the Gorilla is a unique opportunity to secure government, corporate and civil support for the survival of our closest relatives.”
Numbering less than 300 remaining individuals, the Cross River Gorilla prowls an area of 12,000 square kilometres along the Nigerian-Cameroon border. While most of the forest sites fall within the boundaries of Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries or Forest Reserves, affording them some level of protection, community-based protection is being promoted in the remaining sites. Therefore, a community Wildlife Sanctuary is currently being establishment in Nigeria and a gorilla guardian network is being implemented in Cameroon.
A broad-based outreach program envisages the development of local radio programs, thematic conservation films and a trans-boundary education campaign targeted at local hunters. These media will target major conservation challenges such as river poisoning, over-hunting, lack of understanding of wildlife laws and bush burning.