Africa’s highest mountain has become a beacon for climate change because the famous snows of Kilimanjaro are melting. I’m climbing Kili@60 with a team from the PATT Foundation to raise awareness of climate change and raise funds for wildlife charities – and these two critical causes are connected.
The Ape Alliance www.4apes.com is an international coalition of nearly 100 organisations working to protect apes, both in the wild and captivity. In 1996 when threats to most populations of gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans and gibbons were escalating, I convened a round-table meeting of interested groups in London and the Ape Alliance was formed. We set up working groups to produce reports or campaigns to tackle the threats facing apes and other primates in the wild (such as bushmeat and deforestation for palm-oil plantations) and prevent the suffering of captive apes used in entertainment, biomedical labs and the pet trade. I have served as Chairman at our biannual meetings ever since, ably assisted for most of that time by Katy Jedamzik our coordinator. Together we have drawn the attention of logging companies and politicians to the bushmeat trade, campaigned with Friends of the Earth for certified palm-oil, helped create the Animal Pledge www.animalpledge.org to end the use of trained wild animals, worked with the UN to establish the UN Great Apes Survival Partnership, organised the successful Hope4Apes events and, with the Great Apes Film Initiative, provided pedal-powered cinema systems for conservation education in remote parts of Africa and SE Asia, far from the nearest mains electricity. I hope that by following my Kilimanjaro climb you will be moved to support our work.
What is the link to climate change? Forest ecosystems comprise a dynamic interaction between animals, plants, fungi and micro-organisms and of course a globally important carbon sink, without which we could never avert dangerous climate change. Apes are important keystone species in the tropical forests and woodlands of 32 countries across Africa and Asia. Sometimes called the ‘Gardeners of the Forest’, they feed on leaves, stems, flowers, roots and – most importantly - fruits, and in doing so they prune the plants, create light-gaps by breaking branches, act as seed dispersal agents and fertilise the soil with their droppings. Most tropical tree species depend on animals to disperse their seeds, and each huge, towering, centuries-old rainforest tree or savannah baobab we see today is the result of an ecological event hundreds of years ago when, say, an ape ate a fruit, swallowed the seed and the next day deposited it in nutrient-rich dung far from the parent plant. If we want tropical forests and woodlands to continue storing carbon, generating rainfall and stabilising our climate for centuries to come, we MUST protect the primates and other animals today. By supporting the Ape Alliance, you are helping to change the way people perceive apes – respecting them for their intelligence and understanding their role in the ecosystems which sustain us all.