Two Devon conservationists are leading an international campaign to save apes from extinction.
Neil Bemment, curator of mammals at Paignton Zoo Environmental Park, and Dr Vicky Melfi, senior research officer for the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, are on the six-person steering committee for the European Association of Zoos & Aquaria Ape Campaign 2010–2011.
Neil has a leading role on important committees overseeing the breeding of orangs and gorillas. Vicky is a specialist in gibbons, as well as the critically endangered Sulawesi crested black macaque, a monkey found in Indonesia.
The campaign, which has just been launched, focuses on raising public awareness, political lobbying and fundraising across the Continent. The fundraising target is one million Euros.
Vicky told the Devon Week: “It’s a big total, but if we can’t save our closest relatives from extinction, then we certainly are in trouble. We hope to raise this sum by zoos and/or individuals taking up the €3,333 challenge. If 300 zoos or individuals can each make this figure, then we’ll hit our target!”
Paignton Zoo has pledged to raise 9,999 Euros.
The campaign focuses on three major problems currently facing ape species – habitat loss, hunting and health problems. Palm oil production is perhaps the biggest single issue. Palm oil is used in bread, margarine, cereals, cakes, biscuits, pizza, confectionary, shampoo and soap. It is thought to be found in around 40% of Britain’s 100 bestselling grocery brands, accounting for £6 billion of the UK’s £16 billion annual expenditure on brand name products.
Neil said: “Clearing land to grow palm oil is destroying forests, killing off wildlife and displacing local people. Paignton Zoo is trying to go palm oil free in all of its retail and catering activities, but the substance is in so many products that it is proving very difficult. Consumers are in a very strong position to buy with conscience, and avoid palm oil products, or choose those which have come from sustainably sourced palm oil plantations.”