It’s heartbreaking to write that title, to read reports from scientists in the field witnessing the widespread habitat destruction of the gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo, and orangutan forests and the poaching of these amazing creatures for the illegal trade of their meat for food (called bushmeat, which is the most significant threat to African wildlife), and to see orphaned babies whose parents have been killed. One of our own researchers working in Cameroon, Africa is monitoring a bushmeat market every week, and has seen thousands of animals up for sale.
It’s heartbreaking to say the least, but also eye-opening, because I have learned that I myself, like so many other Americans, may be inadvertently contributing to the great apes’ demise without even knowing it! Everyday food products we buy at the grocery store, or furniture we purchase, or the cell phones we buy and discard could leave a gorilla or orangutan homeless or worse. This realization split my heart in half, but has made raising awareness about their plight so important and imperative. Scientists predict great apes may be extinct in our lifetime! But there are ways we can help save them. There isn’t any time to lose”¦
That’s why the San Diego Zoo is hosting Great Ape Awareness Week (from Saturday, Nov. 5 to Sun., Nov. 13, 2005): to help educate the public and raise awareness about factors that are affecting great apes. These issues include the illegal bushmeat crisis, logging, and habitat destruction. Although these issues seem a world away, our personal consumer choices right here in America can affect these factors. Most people don’t know that the increased demand for cell phones is linked to the demise of gorillas, or that common household food products containing palm oil are impacting orangutans in Indonesia. According to the experts, it’s true. By making visitors aware of these issues and letting them know what to look for on food labels and what to do with old cell phones (coltan is an ore used in cell phones which is mined in Central Africa), we can help great apes.
There are several ways we Americans can help save great apes very simply in our day-to-day consumer choices. Information is so powerful, I truly believe if people know the facts, it will make all the difference. That is why I am so excited and so proud to be a part of the planning committee for Great Ape Awareness Week at the Zoo.
Sharon Dewar is a public relations representative for the Zoological Society of San Diego.
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