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Press Release

Projects to Save Africa's Rarest Ape Unveiled by UN and Wildlife Groups
15/ 01/ 2009

Projects to Save Africa's Rarest Ape Unveiled by UN and Wildlife GroupsThree projects aimed at countering the slide towards extinction of one of human-kind's closest relatives were spotlighted today as events to mark the international Year of the Gorilla (YOG) 2009 got underway with a 'Gorillas on Thin Ice' event.

News Announced as People Young and Old Skate Off in London to Lift Threat of 'Gorillas on Thin Ice'

ITV's Dancing on Ice 'Star' Donal Macintyre to Take Part
Gorilla's on Thin Ice - Photogallery

London/Bonn/Nairobi, 15 January 2009 -Three projects aimed at countering the slide towards extinction of one of human-kind's closest relatives were spotlighted today as events to mark the international Year of the Gorilla (YOG) 2009 got underway with a 'Gorillas on Thin Ice' event.

As part of the launch of the United Nations Environment Program's (UNEP) international Year of the Gorilla (YoG) in the United Kingdom, a troupe of skaters dressed as gorillas are to take to the rink at The Natural History Museum in London.

The projects, the first among a list being drawn up by the UNEP Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (UNEP/CMS) in need of government and corporate support, are aimed at boosting the prospects for the Cross River Gorilla which is Africa's rarest ape.

Proposed by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the projects involve educational initiatives and public awareness campaigns among local people to curb hunting, bush burning and logging alongside the establishment of community-based 'gorilla guardian' initiatives. The involvement of communities in conservation activities will be promoted as an add-on to more government driven approaches.

One also involves gathering more scientific data on the evasive Cross River Gorilla population in Cameroon and Nigeria to improve the conservation of these great apes and their habitat. The identification of suitable new habitat and the potential for accessing newly emerging multi-million dollar carbon funds could prove crucial for the long-term prospects of gorillas.

Under the UN climate change convention, governments are considering funding forests in order to reduce deforestation and the release of greenhouse gases. The project is to assess whether Cross Gorilla habitat might prove attractive to investors, thus boosting conservation, local livelihoods and the fight against climate change.

Other projects, to be approved shortly under the CMS Gorilla Agreement's Action Plan, will also cover populations of the other subspecies across the ten African countries where gorillas are still found. Funds raised throughout the YoG will support these innovative projects.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "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."

"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."

Robert Hepworth, CMS Executive Secretary, said: "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. 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. The Gorilla Agreement provides the framework for an innovative and highly promising conservation approach involving local communities."

News of the projects comes as skaters, volunteers of all ages drawn from rinks across London, today take to the ice dressed as gorillas in order to raise awareness of the YOG.

The unique and potentially surreal event is taking place between 10.00am and noon at the Natural History Museum who have donated two hours worth of free time for the event. The skaters, whose presence is being supported by the travel company Abercrombie & Kent, are drawn from London rinks including Alexandra Palace, Romford and Streatham.

Various wildlife groups including Flora and Fauna International, the Zoological Society of London and the Born Free Foundation who are also inviting Donal Macintyre, the acclaimed TV investigative reporter as well as government representatives.

Mr Macintyre is currently competing in the Independent Television (ITV) 1 extravaganza 'Dancing on Ice'.

Notes to Editors
"Gorillas on Thin Ice" will take place at the 900 square-metre ice rink in the gardens of the Natural History Museum, South Kensington, London.
The Year of the Gorilla (YoG) is a joint initiative of the UNEP-CMS, the UNEP/UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's Great Ape Survival Partnership (GRASP) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). CMS has 110 governments supporting as Parties.
Experts meeting in November 2008 under the new Gorilla Agreement, coordinated by UNEP-CMS adopted comprehensive national action plans to support the upcoming Year. Several projects to promote gorilla conservation align to tailored regional action plans and have been supported by the CMS Scientific Council. They focus on better protection of the Cross River Gorilla by strengthening the role of community-based conservation initiatives, the development of a broad-based outreach program and relevant research.
Numbering less than 300 remaining individuals, the Cross River Gorilla is Africa's most endangered ape. It occurs across a 12,000km2 landscape 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.

The survival prospects of Cross River Gorillas will be achieved through the creation of Nigeria's first community managed Wildlife Sanctuary and support a gorilla guardian monitoring network. A combined conservation and rural development approach will be promoted in the most vulnerable Cross River Gorilla sites in Cameroon.

Another project, which will be overseen by the Wildlife Conservation Society aims to promote education and conservation awareness among schools and communities in Cross River National Park in Nigeria and the contiguous Takamanda National Park in Cameroon. The main objective results in changed behaviour related to key threats faced by the Cross River gorillas such as habitat loss and hunting. Given the large number of people living around and also within Okwangwo-Takamanda, raising awareness about the value of conservation and the uniqueness of these gorillas will be a major component of a long-term conservation program. Education and awareness efforts in recent years have already contributed to a significant reduction of gorilla hunting. Under the action plan these efforts will be strengthened and expanded in the heart of the gorillas range.

A broad-based outreach program envisages the development of local radio programs, thematic conservation films and a transboundary 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.

A third project supports relevant research on the Cross River Gorillas, which remain one of the least well-known ape populations. A better understanding of the gorillas' range, population structure and habitat preferences and the collection/generation of new data will allow for more effective management of the Cross River Gorilla and its habitat. Conducting population and distribution surveys will help to better map the extent of the species' range and identity suitable new gorilla habitat. A feasibility study will determine whether carbon credit projects are suitable to fund Cross River Gorilla conservation and could have major implications for future conservation strategies.

For more information about the event and to arrange interviews or photography please contact Sarah Nuttall, UK Based UNEP-CMS Fund Raiser, on Tel: 01403 733 878 or 0790 20 11 734 or e-mail: sarahnuttall60@btinternet.com

For More Information on the Year of the Gorilla Please Contact Ms. Veronika Lenarz, UNEP/CMS Secretariat, on Tel: +49 (0)228 8152409 or +49-172 230 59 06 during the event, e-mail: vlenarz@cms.int

Ian Redmond, YOG Ambassador, Robert Hepworth, CMS Executive Secretary, and Justin Wateridge of A&K, will be among those available for interview.

Further Resources
2009 Year of the Gorilla
Great Apes Survival Partnership
Achim Steiner's podcast on the Year of the Gorilla
Photogallery - Gorillas on Thin Ice
UNEP Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals
World Association of Zoos and Aquariums
Born Free Foundation
Gorillas Skate on Thin Ice (Video)