Conservation News: Save the Apes and You Save the Forests: Scientists

Developing primate conservation projects, particularly for great apes, can contribute toward the long-term health of forests and to carbon sequestration schemes, scientists contend.

Ian Redmond, a tropical field biologist and conservationist, said primates and other fruit-eating animals were crucial to forests because of their role in seed dispersal.

“Fruit-eating animals have been long known to play a very important role in the life cycle of tropical forests, with between 75 to 95 percent of tree species having their seeds dispersed by such animals,” he said.

But that key role, he warned, is in jeopardy because of human activity.

“I feel that we have to turn that around. I know that the only populations of great apes that are known to be increasing are the two tiny populations of mountain gorillas who got down to fewer than 300 each,” Redmond said.

“Other gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, gibbons are all declining.”

He is pushing for efforts to save the animals to be included in schemes to reduce carbon emissions through deforestation and forest degradation, known as REDD Plus. That way, he says, money for these projects can also go toward primate conservation schemes.

“Conservation is not an optional extra that you might add on if it’s convenient,” Redmond said.

“It’s integral [to REDD Plus]. If you want to have permanence in your forest carbon store, you need the animals as well as the plants.”

He said Indonesia was one of the countries that was best placed to push these efforts because it was home to the endangered orangutan, the only great ape species in Asia.

Others species such as chimpanzees, gorillas and bonobos are only found in Africa.

“The hope is that there will be a realization that forests are not just an ornamental part of our planet, but that they are integral to the function of our biosphere and future survival,” Redmond said. ”

Laura D’Arcy, the Zoological Society of London’s co-country coordinator in Indonesia, said these efforts could start with preserving peat forests for their high carbon content.

“This would benefit orangutans who prefer these habitats compared to tropical forests on mineral soil, because the high water level in peatlands allows flowers and fruit to be available all year long for orangutans,” she said.

Eleven of 17 active REDD projects being carried out in Indonesia are in peat swamp forests. D’Arcy said this was a “win-win” situation for apes and humans alike because of the high value of carbon that could be offset for emissions caused by the conversion of forests to palm oil plantations elsewhere.

“Peat swamp forests have low-yield production of palm oil, reducing the cost of carbon emissions required in areas with high density,” she said.

“But that’s bad news for more high-yield, mineral soils, which are more biodiverse than peat forests.”

Courtesy of  The Jakarta Globe/By Ronna Nirmala/Photo by Ronna Nirmala

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