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February 26, 1998 - Ape Alliance Formed to Aid Gorillas

Filed at 6:19 p.m. EST By The Associated Press

LONDON (AP) - Animal protection groups, alarmed by the number of gorillas and chimpanzees being killed in the tropical forests of Africa, joined forces Thursday to fight commercial hunting of the threatened species.

While tourists photograph the remote mountain gorillas of Rwanda -- made famous by the movie "Gorillas in the Mist" - the newly created Ape Alliance says lowland gorillas from neighboring countries are being served up for dinner, not just in mud huts but on china plates in restaurants.

"It's my firm belief that if action is not taken now, there will be no viable populations of great apes living in the wild within 50 years,'' said Jane Goodall, the world's leading expert on chimpanzees, who has joined the London-based campaign.

Goodall appeared with representatives of some of the 34 wildlife conservation groups at a news conference to open their campaign against hunting apes.

Figures in this illegal trade are not readily available, the alliance said, but one estimate in the north of Congo is that up to 600 lowland gorillas are killed each year for the market.

The total gorilla population in West and central Africa is estimated at 115,000.

The alliance emphasized it understood that local people wanted to continue hunting and eating the forest game -- known as bushmeat.

The concern is the huge increase in killing that has arisen because of the growth of big multinational logging enterprises in the hardwood forests. New logging roads provide access to areas that were once nearly impenetrable animal habitats --and now the hunters have guns.

The trucks make it easy for logging workers to transport the animals they have killed to big towns where the meat brings high prices.

What was once subsistence hunting is now commercial, the Alliance said, illustrating the point with photographs of gorilla arms and smoked chimpanzee at meat markets in major towns and cities across central and West Africa.

The World Wide Fund for Nature says bushmeat from West and central Africa shows up on menus from Cameroon to Congo and even Brussels and Paris.

Ian Redmond, head of the Ape Alliance, wants logging companies to accept a code of conduct to end the slaughter of apes.

"We're not looking for a change in any law,'' Redmond said. ``It's already illegal.''

In most cases the animals are protected by the countries concerned, but the governments don't have the resources to stop illegal trade.

"At the very least, timber companies must ensure their workers obey the law,'' he said.

In Gabon, an estimated 20,000 chimpanzees have been wiped out as a result of the logging, the alliance says. There are an estimated 200,000 chimpanzees in 20 African countries.

The alliance is appealing to consumers and retailers not to buy timber products from forests that have not been certified as environmentally responsible by groups such as the Forest Stewardship Council.

Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company

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