Jackson's Great Apes Summit shows need for public involvement

Sep 23, 2013

Panel discussion at Great Apes Summit in Jackson, Wyoming
Panel discussion at Great Apes Summit in Jackson, Wyoming
Credit Stephanie Joyce

Jackson is a long way from the land of the great apes, but this weekend, the world’s leading primatologists gathered there to discuss their future.

Gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans have all seen dramatic population declines over the last hundred years. Doug Cress works for the Great Apes Survival partnership, or GRASP, one of the sponsors of the summit. He says the declines can be attributed to a single source.

“There is no other animal on earth that… that preys on great apes like human beings. Whether it’s accidental, because you cut down a forest to grow palm oil in Sumatra and you wiped out a bunch of orangutans in doing so, or whether it’s specific, where you’re killing gorillas for the meat to eat, or whether you’re catching chimpanzees in the wild to sell them overseas as exotic species -- it’s all humans.”

Cress says while Wyoming may be far away from Africa and Asia, consumers across the globe are driving those dynamics -- particularly through consumption of things that destroy tropical forests, like palm oil and hardwood trees.

The goal of the Great Apes Summit was to devise new ways of approaching those issues.  Primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall headlined the event.  She said getting people with conflicting interests in the same room is progress in the right direction.

“There’s no point bashing away and trying to get them to comprehend it all intellectually. You have to -- I have to anyway -- go for the heart, and leave people feeling ‘well, yes, I do, I see, I really really want to do it better. And then bring in the brain to say ‘well, yes, we could do this and we could do that.’”

Goodall says even though the odds are daunting, the great apes’ fate isn’t sealed.

In particular, she points to the success of reforestation programs in Gombe  National Park in Tanzania, where she did her groundbreaking work on chimpanzee behavior.

The Great Apes Summit is part of the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, which continues this week.