Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Fossey & Redmond:

I am not an optimist when it comes to the likelihood of preserving endangered species in the wild.

There is simply too much economic pressure to avoid this kind of consequence. For example, take our closest relatives, the great apes (chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans). A great deal of sympathy for them exists in many societies, but many of these species will be exterminated in less than 20 years.

Gorilla beringei beringei: 650 individuals left
Gorilla beringei graurei: in 1996 there were 17,000, but in 2003 there are only 2,500 left
Gorilla gorilla diehli: 150 individuals left
Pan paniscus: (the Bonobo chimp) 10 years or less left
Pongo abelii: (the Sumatran orang) 5 years left

Many reserchers believe that Homo sapiens has eliminated competition throughout its existence, and that other hominids like Homo neanderthalensis were wiped out by our advance. But it is also possible that we simply reabsorbed neanderthal into the ever swirling gene pool. Reabsorption is not possible in the case of the other apes - social norms and genetic distance assure that.

In the case of the gorillas, there are two main factors driving their extinction. First, the invasion of poor miners into their habitat. The miners are cutting roads and dredging mud from streams and rivers to extract coltan ore, which is used by the microprocessor industry for the current explosive growth in the cellphone and lap-top market. And the other factor? Ebola virus. It's very likely that tens of thousands of primates have died a pretty horrible death from it. And the mining roads bring the virus out to us, along with the ore.

"Talk away, monkey boy!"