Great ape conservation must be integral to REDD+, says leading primate biologist

BOGOR, Indonesia (13 January, 2012)_Great apes play an important role in the long-term health of forests and climate change schemes such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) should be structured so that they can channel funds to primate conservation projects, leading biologist Ian Redmond said.
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Photo courtesy of Paul Vladuchick/flickr.

BOGOR, Indonesia (13 January, 2012)_Great apes play an important role in the long-term health of forests and climate change schemes such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) should be structured so that they can channel funds to primate conservation projects, leading biologist Ian Redmond said.

“Conservation is not an optional extra that you might add on if it is convenient, it’s integral [to REDD+]… If you want to have permanence in your forest carbon store, you need the animals as well as the plants,” Redmond said at an event hosted by the Center for International Forestry Research and the International Institute for Environmental Development that looked at how Africa and Asia can learn from each other’s experience in great ape conservation.

“But I still get the feeling that those people in closed rooms, working at the details of REDD+ are still thinking that it is the trees that are the most important because that is where the carbon is.”

Fruit-eating animals have been long known to play a very important role in the lifecycle of tropical forests, with between 75 to 95 percent of tree species having their seeds dispersed by such animals. The role of primates in seed dispersal has been shown to have significant unique effects on plant demography and forest regeneration, which also has knock-on effects for human populations who rely on forest resources for their livelihoods.

Despite their recognised importance to the ecology of the forest, primate habitat has become increasingly fragmented as deforestation rates have climbed. What was once a continuous supply of critical natural resources from the forest has now become scarce and apes are forced to forage close to human settlements and cultivated fields, often resulting in aggression and even conflict.

Redmond, who describes himself as a naturalist by birth, a biologist by training, and a conservationist by necessity, has being working with Mountain Gorillas in Africa for 35 years. Redmond started out in Mountain Gorilla research under the late Dian Fossey but the main focus of his work shifted to conservation after poachers killed Digit – a young silverback gorilla in one of his study groups – to sell his skull and hands. Finding the headless, handless body of a gorilla he regarded as a friend was a turning point in his life.

As the human population continues to balloon and demand for food and land becomes more insistent, Redmond notes that the number of great apes is steadfastly decreasing, with only an estimated 50,000 gorillas left in the wild of Africa.

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

“So whilst we have been hearing people saying ‘this is a crisis, we need more effort’, clearly the response to that crisis has not been adequate except in one or two small places where enough money, effort, resources, dedicated people, courageous conservationists have turned things around.”

The past two years have seen an influx of donor support for REDD+, with multilateral pledges to the World Bank’s Forest Investment Program (FIP), exceeding US $500 million and bilateral financing, for example from Norway to Indonesia, seeing as much as $1 billion committed to successfully reducing deforestation. However, Redmond asks, where does this money go?

“I see a lot of governments struggling to conserve their wildlife…[it seems that] REDD+ money is for reducing emissions from deforestation and then there is a tiny stream of money that goes to conservation of wildlife as if it isn’t part of the same thing.

Bringing conservation and climate mitigation funding streams together is key, says Redmond, so that “conservation is adequately funded and REDD+ is successful in the long-term.”

“The hope is that the realisation that forests are not just an ornamental part of our planet but they are integral to function of our biosphere and future survival. Perhaps that would be enough motivation so that enough resources are put in to protect the whole forest ecosystem. Then we might start to see ape populations recovering.”

The workshop was the second of a series on “Great Apes and Poverty Linkages”, organized under the auspices of the Poverty and Conservation Learning Group (PCLG), and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), with financial support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), United States Fish and Wildlife (USFW), the Arcus Foundation and the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP). The event was hosted by CIFOR and the Forestry Research and Development Agency (FORDA) of Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry.

Visit the workshop’s page to watch videos of presentations from the experts, read related blog stories and see pictures from the event and field trip to Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.

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  • Diane Husic

    I agree with some much of what is written in this piece.

    I have attended the last 3 COP meetings and have seen a decreasing focus on ecological/conservations aspects related to climate change. There is increasing skepticism and concern over provisions in REDD+ especially by indigenous groups in Africa and Latin America.

    I attended the meetings of the RINGOs constituency group in Durban (Research and Independent NGOs). Typically, about 50 people attend, and in this group, I was the only one who does ecological monitoring related to climate change adaptation. There were finance folks, policy folks, carbon capture experts, climate justice scholars, etc., but to my knowledge, no one else representing ecology or conservation.

    So how do we get the message out about conservation not being an add-on or after thought?