[Dateline: New York/Nairobi | Author: iSeek/UNEP]
A United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) campaign to halt the slide towards extinction of one of human-kind’s closest and most threatened relatives gained momentum on Thursday, 15 January, with troupes of skaters dressed as primates taking to the rink at London’s Natural History Museum to raise awareness about the plight of gorillas. Three projects aimed at countering the slide towards extinction of gorillas were spotlighted on the day. Proposed by the Wildlife Conservation Society, a New York-based organization leading and supporting research and conservation projects throughout the gorilla’s range, the projects involve educational initiatives and public awareness campaigns among local people to curb hunting, bush burning and logging, as well as the establishment of community-based “gorilla guardian” initiatives.
Young and old volunteer skaters from London ice rinks participated in the event dubbed "Gorillas on Thin Ice," which kick-started a series of activities planned as part of the United Nations Environment Program's Year of the Gorilla 2009.
Donal Macintyre, a British journalist and television personality who participated in the Dancing on Ice television show also took part in the event.
The initiatives also include the gathering of more scientific data on the evasive Cross River Gorilla population in Cameroon and Nigeria to improve the conservation of these great apes and their habitat.
First among a list of initiatives being drawn up by the UNEP Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (UNEP/CMS) in need of government and corporate support, the projects are aimed at boosting the prospects for the Cross River Gorilla which is Africa's rarest ape.
Funds raised during the international YoG will support a range of innovative projects in Africa agreed under a new Gorilla Agreement and its recently adopted action plan.
"The world is currently going through a sixth wave of extinctions, so it not just gorillas that are skating on thin ice - you could put a whole menagerie out there today on the Natural History Museum rink from Iberian Lynx and Cuban crocodile to the La Palma Giant Lizard and the Rameshwaram Parachute Spider," said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director.
"Thus in supporting the Year of the Gorilla countries, companies and citizens will not only be acting to save important high-profile species, but also a rich array of forest biodiversity upon which many people depend,” he noted.
The Year of the Gorilla is a joint initiative of the UNEP-CMS, UNEP/UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's Great Ape Survival Partnership (GRASP) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). CMS has 110 governments supporting as Parties.
The London event also heralded the Charles Darwin bicentenary celebrations, which take place next month. Darwin was an English naturalist, who demonstrated that all species of life have evolved over time from common ancestors.
The Year of the Gorilla is also part of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.
The world-renowned great ape conservationist and UN Messenger of Peace Jane Goodall, will lend her voice to this campaign as the official campaign patron.