In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Craig Stanford of the University of Southern California explores the variety of threats the world’s great apes face from modern humans.
Craig Stanford is a professor of anthropology and biological sciences at the University of Southern California and Co-Director of the USC Jane Goodall Research Center. His research is focused on the ecological relationships among primate species within a shared tropical forest ecosystem. In addition to a fifteen-year project examining chimpanzee behavioral ecology in East Africa, he has recently been collaborating in studies on endangered Asian primates. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.
Dr. Craig Stanford – The Human Threat to Great Apes
Great apes, our closest evolutionary cousins, face extinction within our lifetime. All are being decimated by disease, loss of habitat, regional instability, and even consumption as food. Their protection may lie in solutions as different as cell phones and ecotourism.
Cell phones, like many other electronic devices, are built with capacitors, which require tantalum extracted from coltan. Eighty percent of the world’s coltan supply is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the heart of the remaining habitat of eastern lowland gorillas. With an increasing demand for electronics driving a worldwide hunger for coltan, miners in the DRC are polluting and consuming gorilla habitat while extracting the ore. Compounding the problem, miners hunt the apes for food. The situation is grim, and these gorilla populations will go extinct soon without a sustained effort to intervene.
Ecotourism has meanwhile been a savior of mountain gorillas in nearby Uganda and Rwanda; visitors pay up to $500 to view gorillas in the wild, and a percentage of these dollars go to local communities to give local people a stake in conservation. “Gorilla-trekking” gives an economic incentive to protect the apes in parts of East Africa, and have made them more valuable alive than dead.
We also need tough regulations to combat the thriving black-market trade in bushmeat. As African people emigrate from regions where apes have traditionally been consumed as food, they drive a global black-market trade in ape meat across Africa and even to Europe and North America.
We face a 21st century biodiversity crisis and the possible loss of our genetic next of kin. Allowing them to die would be like allowing your extended family to die. It is my hope that we can raise awareness of this issue and unite as a global community to protect and preserve the remaining great apes.