By Maureen Fox
Daily Titan Staff Writer
Ian Redmond, a tropical field biologist and conservationist, spoke as â€œThe Official Year of the Gorilla Ambassadorâ€ about the dangers of decreasing ape populations at a presentation hosted by the Department of Anthropology on Thursday.
Several hundred students filled a lecture room at 5 p.m. in Mihaylo Hall, lining the walls and sitting on the floor, to hear Redmond speak about the importance of ape conservation and their impact on the world. Redmondâ€™s presentation was titled, â€œSave the Gorillas to Save the World.â€
As ambassador for â€œThe Year of the Gorillaâ€ campaign, Redmond travels the world, talking with politicians and groups to promote the conservation of gorillas and to gather funds for the rescue effort.
Redmond spoke for over an hour, explaining why gorillas deserve to be protected and detailing their impact, both currently and if they become extinct, on the world. Redmond said gorillas should be saved because of their economic benefits, their historical connection to humans, their natural beauty and their ethical right to live.
He talked about his own experiences working with gorillas in Africa, showing videos of gorillas in the wild and describing the people he met and the cultures he experienced.
According to Redmond, by 2030, only 10 percent of great ape habitats will remain free of the impacts of human development in Africa. Only 1 percent of orangutans will avoid the same impacts in Southeast Asia. Gorilla populations have had some recovery successes, but their numbers continue to drastically decrease.
â€œItâ€™s a very fragile recovery, and I think itâ€™s something we have to pay a lot of attention to,â€ Redmond said.
Dr. Peter Fashing, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology, specializes in the behavior, ecology and conservation of wild nonhuman primates and is a co-sponsor of Redmondâ€™s talk. Fashing believes the loss of gorillas would negatively impact the history of humanity.
â€œAlong with the chimpanzee and the bonobo, gorillas are one of our three closest living relatives, â€œ Fashing stated in an e-mail interview. â€œWhat we learn from studies of gorillas helps us to better understand our shared primate past. Thus, losing a branch of the human family tree, especially one as magnificent and awe-inspiring as the gorilla, would be a tragedy for humanity.â€
Fashing also said the end of the gorilla species would alter entire habitats, potentially contributing to global warming and would cause a drop in tourism revenues for countries that rely on gorilla ecotourism.
Redmond said that gorilla populations in West Africa are threatened by human destruction of their rain forest habitats, outbreaks of the Ebola virus and the bushmeat trade, where hunters kill gorillas and other forest wildlife as a source of food for humans.
Dr. Raffaela Commitante, an anthropology professor who specializes in orangutan conservation, heard about the talk from her anthropology connections. Commitante said that the extinction of apes would throw off the balance of natural systems.
â€œOnce extinctions start happening, you just donâ€™t know how thatâ€™s going to snowball into mass extinctions of more and more primates, and weâ€™re part of that order,â€ Commitante said.
Despite the threats apes face, Commitante maintains hope that the species can be saved.
â€œWe all work towards better awareness and better conservation of these endangered species,â€ Commitante added.
Redmond explained that gorillas are essential to the survival of ecosystems in their home countries.
Gorillas fertilize and disperse seeds through their dung, which regenerates the forests.
They also bring in a huge source of revenue through ecotourism. According to the Uganda Wildlife Authority, gorillas brought 20,000 visitors and $300 million to the country in 2007.
Gorillas also impact global warming. Protecting gorilla habitats preserves forests, which in turn decreases the amount of carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere from a reduced number of trees and the harvesting process.
Redmond concluded his talk by stating primates are keystone species in habitats that provide ecosystem services for the whole planet. Saving the gorillas will preserve ecosystems that directly determine human survival. Redmond also said the conservation effort begins with each of us.
Students responded to Redmondâ€™s presentation with enthusiastic applause.
Ericka Roman, a third-year anthropology major, said the talk was interesting. She expected to be overwhelmed by scientific terminology but found it directed toward the general public.
Ashley Deluca, a third-year mechanical engineering major, attended the talk for her anthropology class and found the presentation inspiring.
â€œIt really sheds a light on … what actually is happening in the world right now, and that it is an issue today,â€ Deluca said. â€œEven though itâ€™s happening far away, it does affect us.â€
For more information on â€œThe Year of the Gorillaâ€ conservation campaign, visit YoG2009.org.
Greg Lehman contributed to this report.