Wildlife conservation is one of the central missions of modern zoos. With more than 156 million visitors annually to North American zoos, and almost 600 million to zoos worldwide, the potential for zoos to inform people about conservation and motivate them to action is truly amazing.

The AZA Ape TAG Conservation Initiative
serves to coordinate efforts among AZA zoos to protect wild apes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many zoos also
offer institutional
grant programs
to support the conservation of apes and other wildlife.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read a statement from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) regarding the use of apes in media and commercial performances.

 

 

 

 

Conservation
 

Apes need our help. "Catastrophic decline, precipitous loss, decimation"- these are the words used to describe the current situation for apes in the wild. Illegal hunting, habitat loss to mining, logging and agricultural conversion, disease and the pet trade all threaten the fragile existence of apes and their habitats. It is estimated that some species of apes will be extinct in as little as one human generation (20 years).

With every day that passes, we are losing options for saving wild populations of apes. A number of key activities are crucial for the long-term survival of apes in the wild: anti-poaching patrols and law enforcement, the presence of long-term field sites and researchers, effective protected area management, and community involvement. More information, such as data on ape densities and distributions, is also essential to develop sustainable conservation programs.

What Zoos are Doing for Conservation

To be successful in conserving apes and their habitats, we must act and increase funding for these activities now. Today, AZA accredited zoos are moving to enhance their contribution to the conservation of wild apes through the Ape TAG Conservation Initiative.
They also contribute funds or expertise directly to
field projects and offer small grants to conservation organizations.

 
Issues

The following table illustrates the major threats to the survival of wild ape populations.

Gorillas
Chimpanzees
Bonobos
Orangutans
Gibbons/
Siamangs
Conservation Status
Western gorillas are critically endangered; eastern gorillas are endangered.
Endangered
Endangered
Sumatran orangutans are critically endangered; Bornean orangutans are endangered.
Species vary from vulnerable to critically endangered.
Deforestation
X
X
X
X
X
Disease
X
X
X
X
-
Poaching/
Bushmeat
X
X
X
-
X
Pets/
Entertainment Industry
-
X
-
X
X
Political Unrest
X
X
X
-
X

 

Deforestation
All apes are forest species and, consequently, are dependent on this type of habitat for survival. Human encroachment on forests can have devastating repercussions for ape populations. Forests are being cut down for a variety of reasons, including subsistence agriculture, commercial cultivation, and logging. In particular, clear cutting for palm oil plantations is dramatically affecting orangutan populations. Access roads built to support these industries facilitate travel to and use of formerly remote, inaccessible habitats.
 
Disease
Zoonotic diseases are illnesses that can be transmitted between animals and humans. Apes and humans share many zoonotic diseases, and the risk of transmission increases as human encroachment on ape habitat increases. These diseases can decimate ape populations and can be devastating for humans as well. The Ebola virus is an excellent example. It is extremely lethal in both apes and humans and has resulted in 95% mortality in some gorilla populations in central Africa.
 
Poaching and Bushmeat

In many parts of the world, people are dependent on hunting for their protein. Hunting bushmeat-apes and other forest animals-has been a sustainable part of human history for thousands of years. Increased demand, growing poverty, and greater access to remote areas has led to an explosion of illegal commercial hunting and a subsequent significant population decline for many species. Apes are often victims of this illegal hunting and may be specifically targeted due to their large size.

 
Pets and the Entertainment Industry

It is not unusual to see apes in movies, advertisements, and television. Such use raises serious welfare concerns for the animals involved and promotes the perception that apes make good pets. Featuring apes in entertainment may also undermine serious conservation issues by giving the impression that apes thrive with human companionship and that current ape populations are robust.

 

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