Drive launched by Japanese groups to save great apes

Drivelaunched by Japanese groups to save great apes

Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, 27 December 2003
By Saori Kan

Humans’ closest relatives, the great apes–bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans–are in danger of extinction, and various international efforts are under way to save them. To support these activities, a number of Japanese groups and researchers have joined in the cause.

As one of those efforts, the Kyoto University Primate Research Institute researchers started an ecotourism project this year for tourists to visit a chimpanzee habitat in Kalinzu Forest in Uganda, where they have confirmed 200 to 300 chimps are living. Revenue raised from the ecotours, in which participants are guided by researchers, will compensate local residents for halting their logging in the forest.

In Borneo, Indonesia, one of the last strongholds of orangutans, a rise in illegal logging and poaching has put the endangered species at heightened risk, as has the loss of about 5.7 million hectares of forest to wildfires from 1997 to 1998.

According to a study conducted by a Harvard University researcher, wild orangutans, which number between 15,000 and 24,000, could be extinct in just 10 to 20 years. Stripping down rain forests is a heavy blow to orangutans, as they spend almost all of their lives in trees, the researcher said.

Other studies have indicated that the worldwide population of gorillas and chimps is at about 110,000 each, while that of bonobos is at about 25,000.

In June, the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation Nippon was established in Nishi-Tokyo, Tokyo, as a nonprofit organization to support the efforts of the Balikpapan Orangutan Survival Foundation, based in Kalimantan, Indonesia, to preserve the species.

The Tokyo organization is planning to publish an English translation of a book written by a Kyoto University researcher, Akira Suzuki, Japan’s foremost authority on orangutan studies, who has been conducting research on the species for more than 20 years. The nonprofit organization will encourage the Indonesian government to use the book as a textbook at Indonesian schools so profits from selling them can be used in preservation efforts for orangutans and their environment.

Rinji Miyazaki, who serves as the executive director of the Tokyo organization, is the president of a small company in Tokyo. In fact, he had been engaging in forest development at a major Japanese forestry company for about 20 years in Southeast Asian nations, including Indonesia, before he quit in 1989.

He was climbing the career ladder at his company, whose total volume of imported wood was the largest in Japan at the time. But after the death of his parents, he began to ask questions about the nature of his job. “If I were to be on my deathbed, I want to be able to tell others, ‘That forest is where I planted trees,’ and not ‘That is the place where I cut trees”, he said.

He began donating money out of the company’s profits to preserve rain forests in Indonesia and, two years ago, started a new business aimed at both generating profits and helping restore the rain forest. The business uses funds not necessarily from the environmentally conscious, but from profit-seeking investors.

The money the investors put into the business is used to purchase and plant fast-growing teak trees and trees native to the area. This way, investors gain profits from the teak trees that are cut down without having to wait too long, while the rain forest is gradually rebuilt.

He said: “I knew what we could do with donations given out of goodwill was limited. I believe that ecology and economy should be combined to draw more people into preservation efforts.”

For inquiries about the ecotour in Uganda, visit the Web site at

and about Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation Nippon, call the secretariat at (0424) 51-5346 or visit its Web site


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