That is how many great apes the United Nation’s Great Ape Survival Partnership estimates have been lost to illegal trading since 2005 (Stiles et al, 2013). This includes lives lost to bushmeat hunting, the illegal pet trade, populating unaccredited zoos and wildlife parks, and the entertainment industry (including those used in travelling circuses) (Stiles et al, 2013). All of these activities are horrific in their own right; both cruel to the great apes being transported and sold like cargo, and dangerous to the humans who are being exposed to diseases and are at risk of being seriously injured by these powerful animals (Stiles et al, 2013).
That’s roughly the same number of undergraduate students in the University of Toronto’s faculty of Arts and Science. It’s a huge number, and it is being made worse by an ever increasing rate of habitat destruction, which allows poachers and traders easier access to the apes (Stiles et al, 2013). In fact, it is estimated that by 2030, less than 10% of African great ape habitat – the habitats of chimpanzees and gorillas – will remain undisturbed by humans (Stiles et al, 2013).
Fourteen thousand chimpanzees, one thousand bonobos, three thousand gorillas, and four thousand orangutans.
An increase in hunting and illegal trading would further devastate great ape populations, and threatens to send some populations spiraling to the brink of extinction. But as the demand for apes increases, forests thin out, and humans get better at smuggling live animals to and from countries, how can we improve these bleak circumstances?
The Great Ape Survival Partnership, in an action report released this year, suggest that three main areas be targeted to curb the illegal ape trade. Firstly, it is important to curb consumer demand for great apes, which would lower the value of apes being trafficked and reduce motivation to participate in illegal trading (Stiles et al, 2013). Secondly, enforcement of anti-hunting and trading laws has to be stricter, ensuring that less people ‘get away’ with participation in horrific trading schemes (Stiles et al, 2013). Lastly, the most dangerous type of trafficking – large scale, organized trafficking – must be addressed and internationally handled (Stiles et al, 2013).
This large scale trafficking is highly problematic as it not only involves a larger number of apes, but it also crosses political boundaries, and therefore makes the persecution of individuals very difficult (Stiles et al, 2013). By strengthening trans-boundary cooperation, emphasizing frequent border inspections for illegal exports, and creating specialized border customs units equipped to investigate and crack international ape trafficking rings (Stiles et al, 2013), we stand a much better chance of dissolving these large rings and really addressing the great ape trade worldwide.
Stiles, D., Redmond, I., Cress, D., Nellemann, C., Formo, R.K. (eds). 2013. Stolen Apes – The Illicit Trade in Chimpan- zees, Gorillas, Bonobos and Orangutans. A Rapid Response Assessment. United Nations Environment Programme, GRID-Arendal. http://www.grida.no