An award-winning environmentalist says she fears for the future of some of the world’s most threatened chimpanzees.
Devastated by hunting and deforestation, they now face a coronavirus threat, says Rachel Ashegbofe Ikemeh, project director of the South-West / Niger Delta Forest Project.
The pandemic is bringing issues such as wildlife trade and consumption to the fore, he says.
And it’s time for environmentalists to talk and support change.
“There should be changes, there should be regulations and there should be policies that would end the wildlife trade, and in particular the wild meat markets,” he told BBC News.
With forests lost due to agriculture and deforestation, the chimpanzee habitat is rapidly disappearing across Africa. And poaching is also a serious threat, with chimpanzees hunted for their body parts or taken alive and sold as pets.
The forests of southwestern Nigeria are home to the populations of the most threatened chimpanzee group, the subspecies of Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees. (Pan troglodytes ellioti).
About 100 chimpanzees live in two wooded areas, making up a distinct “extremely valuable and extremely endangered” population, says Rachel Ashegbofe Ikemeh, who won a “Green Oscar” from the Whitley Fund for her work.
He will use the money to work with the government to establish conservation areas and to support stricter laws to protect wildlife. Many laws on wildlife conservation in the region were created decades ago and now need reform.
A reserve in the Ise forest was recently approved by Nigeria’s Ekiti state government after years of campaigning. Despite this “good news”, he fears for the future of chimpanzees if the coronavirus strikes.
“Fears for chimpanzees are great because chimpanzees share about 98% of human genetics,” he says. “They are very vulnerable to contracting or being infected with any disease that humans have.”
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It is not known whether great apes can contract the virus, but precautionary measures are taken.
Gorilla tourism in Africa has been suspended, while sanctuaries for other monkeys, such as orangutans, have been closed to the public.
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