Great Apes Are Heading for Extinction

Human beings’ endless efforts to kill each other have not reduced their overall numbers, but they may yet wipe out humanity’s closest genetic cousins, the great apes: gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans. Several of these charismatic — but apparently not charismatic enough — megafauna face extinction because of human wars, which destroy opportunities for fishing and agriculture, thereby leading hungry hunters to poach the apes for food. Between wars, humans cut down the forests where the great apes live. Particularly tragic is the story of the bonobos, devastated by civil war in the Congo. Though they are over 98 percent genetically identical to us, they behave quite differently: Their societies are matriarchal; they do not kill each other or fight over territory; when they experience conflict or anxiety, they have sex. Whereas when we experience conflict or anxiety, we kill things. The U.N. estimates that there are 450,000 great apes left in the world; conservationists fear they could be extinct within 10 to 15 years.