Saving the Great Apes

I have a soft spot for non-human primates, especially gorillas, as they got me interested in primatology and physical anthropology back in high school. This eventually got me to take a college-level anthro course and led me to adopting cultural anthropology as a career. So I’m pleased to see that 20 governments are getting together to try to “save the great apes”: from extinction.

I’d be curious to know if there are actual primatologists on board with the “Great Apes Survival Project”:, the organism that organised the conference during which the declaration to save the great apes was signed. I would think that they do but I was unable to find the information on GRASP’s website.

Of course, non-human primates co-exist with human primates and GRASP seems to have grasped (I couldn’t resist) the idea that the activities of local populations need to be taken into account. As is indicated in the BBC news article, the agreement proposes that:

The agencies should ‘make it a priority to develop and implement policies which promote ecologically sustainable livelihoods for local and indigenous communities’

I think that this reflects an acknowledgement that government agreement or no government agreement, ultimately it is essential to obtain the cooperation of people who live in areas near our non-human cousins. This cooperation requires that the people in question have the resources that they need to live without having to resort to poaching. I’m hoping that they have at least consulted cultural anthropologists in that area to assess effective ways of carrying out this project while taking local realities into account.

One thought on “Saving the Great Apes

  1. hooray for helping great apes. But having studied local involvement in conservation efforts, I wonder actually if that’s the right level on which to focus. There was a *huge* dust-up on the topic late last year, prompted by an essay Mac Chapin published in World Watch magazine. A “free pdf”: is available, letters pro and con followed in the next issue and on their website (my take was basically con, I thought his piece was sloppy and hugely unfair). Anyway, I have begun to wonder if all of the focus on “local people” in conservation efforts has as much to do with limited budgets and limited policy-making power as it has to do with “hooray for indigenous and traditional peoples!”. That is to say, I wonder if conservationists’ 1990s attention to the microlevel had a lot to do with being able to wield enormous influence at that scale, vs. their very limited ability to do much about the overarching drivers of habitat loss, species decline, etc. For enviros in the 90s, becoming a champion of local people, indigenous peoples, traditional peoples was the alternative to become a revolutionary or giving in to despair (full disclosure: I totally was one of those 90s enthusiasts).

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