Wednesday, September 07, 2005

"The Last Great Apes?" -- Science Editorial Occassioned by the Sequencing of the Chimp Genome

The full editorial from Science (Subscription required.)

"Roughly 100,000 gorillas, 100,000 chimpanzees, 10,000 bonobos, and 30,000 orangutans survive today in the wild. Some forms are critically endangered: About 200 Cross River gorillas remain in Nigeria and Cameroun; about 6000 Sumatran orangutans survive, swinging their full-body orange dreadlocks. All the great apes of the world together number less than the human population of Brighton, England; the most numerous species, less than the people of Abilene, Texas........

"The Great Ape Survival Project (GRASP) links the 23 ape range-state governments with all the different organizations working for great apes, as well as with the United Nations (UN) Environment Programme and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Is this just another layer of bureaucracy? No. GRASP is a heroic effort to aid global treasures on a global scale. Each separate forest and its denizens can only be saved locally, and each needs the backing of its own country’s people and government. In turn, each government needs to appreciate the importance of what it holds. Politicians are not impressed by wildlife that doesn’t lobby and doesn’t vote. GRASP is the coordinating lobby in favor of humankind’s nearest relatives.

"The sequencing of the chimpanzee genome is a huge step toward discovering how building blocks of information are assembled to construct either ape or human. Even so, geneticists are all too aware that a genome is only part of the story of an individual, let alone a species. The nature of genetic variability between individuals, populations, and species can and will find objective measures, but the future of individuals, populations, and species will never be solved by genetics.

"It will only be solved by action—practical political action based on respect for other individuals—even if those individuals are only almost human."

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