The Associated Press
updated 12/5/2003 3:13:10 PM ET 2003-12-05T20:13:10

At least $25 million is needed to save great apes such as gorillas and chimpanzees from the threat of extinction, a United Nations official said Wednesday.

“The clock is standing at one minute to midnight for the great apes, animals that share more than 96 percent of their DNA with humans,” said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environmental Program, or UNEP.

“$25 million is the bare minimum we need, the equivalent to providing a dying man with bread and water,” he said in a statement before a three-day international conference on the great apes starting in Paris Wednesday.

All great ape species risk extinction, either in the immediate future or at best within 50 years, because of growing forest destruction, poaching, live animal trade and humans encroaching on their habitat, the conference organizers said.

Money is needed to set up protection areas and to promote conservation measures, they said.

The conference brings together delegates from ape range states, donor countries and environmental groups.

UNEP and U.N. cultural arm UNESCO aim to develop a global conversation strategy for the great apes at the meeting and prepare an intergovernmental conference for late next year.

Less than 10 percent of the great apes’ remaining forest habitat in Africa will be left relatively undisturbed by 2030 if building of roads and other infrastructure continues at today’s pace, according to a recent UNEP report.

UNESCO expert Samy Mankoto cited research showing the western chimpanzee has disappeared from Benin, Gambia and Togo. UNEP said orangutans in Southeast Asia could have almost no relatively undisturbed habitat left by 2030.

Since a UNEP and UNESCO-coordinated survival project for the apes was launched in 2001, 16 of the 23 great ape range states have started to apply new conservation measures. The conference’s organizers hope to expand these initiatives.

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