Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Planet without Apes

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Planet without Apes

Article excerpt

Planet without Apes. By Craig B. Stanford Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 272pp, Pounds 19.95. ISBN 9780674067042. Published 25 November 2012

The non-human great apes - our closest living relatives - are on the edge of extinction. Planet without Apes highlights the myriad threats facing the estimated 300,000 to 400,000 remaining chimpanzee, bonobo, gorilla and orangutan individuals clinging on to survival. "Their forests are being cut down beneath them. Their meat is relished by people. They are subject to all the diseases that afflict humans and have suffered massive epidemics from emerging viruses. They continue to be taken from the wild to serve as laboratory animals, circus performers, and household pets." Craig Stanford does not beat around the bush.

But why the sole focus on great apes? In Stanford's eyes the answer is simple: "We should care about the great apes first and foremost because they are us." Throughout the book he emphasises our shared morphological, genetic, behavioural and cognitive traits, and argues that great apes should therefore be afforded special significance. A focus on great apes with no reference to small apes (the often-forgotten gibbons) and little reference to monkeys or other species that are every bit as threatened may well annoy some primatologists and wildlife biologists. But the personal flavour of Stanford's account, which draws on his firsthand experience of studying apes in the wild, doubtless would be lost if the book were expanded to include other species. In places, however, discussions focus rather too heavily on chimpanzees, especially through persistent reference to the chimpanzee community in Tanzania's Gombe Stream National Park.

Although this is not the first attempt to examine the suite of threats to our closest living relatives, it is the first to offer such a personable and easy-to-understand approach pitched at readers lacking any previous background in conservation biology. The book's title is attention- grabbing, its short length and non-academic style make it more reader- friendly than primate conservation texts, and a basic bibliography offers further reading for those whose interest has been piqued. Throughout, Stanford's thought-provoking and well-balanced discussions are offered with passion.

The author certainly does not shy away from sharing his views with the reader. He frequently compares the apes' demise to genocide, yet he is careful to declare that extinction of the great apes is more an act of ignorance than a wilful one. …

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