Click to read: Durrell Wildlife welcomes UN call to save great apes

Durrell Wildlife welcomes UN call to save great apes

Speaking in response to the joint announcement by UNEP and UNESCO of the need to spend $25 million dollars in order to reduce the risk of extinction of the world’s remaining gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans, Dr Lee Durrell, widow of famous author and naturalist, Gerald Durrell, welcomed the recognition of the plight of the great apes and the calling of a joint emergency meeting by UNEP and UNESCO to address the issues facing the great apes in Africa and South East Asia and to draw up a survival plan.

“It is distressing to us here at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust that more than forty years after my late husband, Gerald Durrell, warned of the likely consequences of not taking action to protect the wild species of the world we find ourselves in a situation where the great apes, surely one of the ultimate wonders of nature, find themselves so close to extinction.”

“I welcome this recognition by the UN of the plight of the great apes and the calling of this emergency meeting to try to address the issues involved and to attempt to halt the destruction of their habitats as well as establishing areas where ape populations can stabilise or even increase.”

“The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, which Gerry established forty years ago this year, has for many years been involved in the international captive breeding programmes for western lowland gorillas and Sumatran orangutans. Whilst we are justifiably proud of our successful record of captive breeding of great apes - our latest success is a baby female gorilla born this summer - it saddens me that the plight of gorillas in the wild necessitates the keeping and breeding of these beautiful creatures in captivity.”

“If there is one thing which we have learned in over forty years working to save wild species it is that conservation action cannot be taken in isolation but only as part of addressing the needs of local communities and getting them to ‘own’ the conservation programmes to ensure long-term success and sustainability.  This is why Durrell Wildlife is currently supporting work to save gorillas and chimpanzees in unprotected habitat areas of Cameroon by focussing on the local communities.  By striving to understand the effects the human population has on the lives of the apes, and vice-versa, we will discover how wild apes living in these areas can be better protected, whilst at the same time ensuring the needs of the local people are met now and into the future. ”

“There is also the wider issue highlighted by Unesco Director General, Koïchiro Matsuura, of the link between apes and man and their habitat being a vital resource to mankind that we need to protect at all cost for our own sake. Gerald described the destruction of the world’s habitats and wildlife as “man being in the position of sawing off the tree branch he is sitting on.” How prophetic those words were in view of the situation we find ourselves in today.”

Gerald Durrell (author of 37 books including the international best-seller My Family and Other Animals) was one of the founding fathers of modern day conservation thinking, establishing his Zoo in Jersey in the Channel Islands in 1959 in order to protect and provide a safe haven for some of the world’s most endangered species and to breed them with the intention of returning them to the wild.

Forty years ago his visionary ideas on conservation were ridiculed but today they are accepted practice for most zoos across Europe and much of the world. The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, which he founded in 1963, is highly respected in conservation circles and is still at the forefront of conservation practice and thinking.

Posted 27 November 2003

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