China’s thirst for natural resources including wood and minerals is leading to massive deforestation in Africa and the destruction of crucial wildlife habitat, world-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall said on Tuesday.
The British scientist who revolutionised research with her studies of chimpanzees beginning in 1960 warned that Beijing is pressing governments in Central Africa’s Congo basin to sign over forest concessions in return for infrastructure and healthcare aid.
She said the process is helping decimate some of the largest populations of wild chimpanzees and gorillas in the world.
“These areas containing unlogged forests are very desirable to, particularly today, China, with China’s desperate effort for economic growth,” she told a Capitol Hill briefing attended by House of Representatives science and technology committee chairperson Bart Gordon.
“Basically, they have almost exhausted their own supplies [of wood and minerals] so they go to Africa and offer large amounts of money or offer to build roads or make dams, in return for forest concessions or rights to minerals and oil,” Goodall (74) said.
“I’m actually hoping [China’s growth rate] will be slowed a little bit by this economic crisis” in order to stem the deforestation, she said.
Goodall said the Chinese “have many enterprises in Congo-Brazzaville, and they’re certainly in DRC”, the Democratic Republic of Congo, two countries where deforestation and human encroachment have decimated wild primate populations despite efforts by the Jane Goodall Institute and other groups to reverse the trend.
“Their habitat is disappearing,” said Goodall, considered one of the 20th century’s leading scientists for her work with chimpanzees in what is now Gombe National Park in Tanzania.
She said it was crucial to work more closely with national and local governments in order to expand community-based conservation projects as a way to “offset offers from China”.
She also blamed the rampant bushmeat trade for helping devastate primate populations.
The trade is facilitated by foreign logging concerns building roads into once-inaccessible forested areas, and in some cases allowing hunters to ride in and out of the region on logging trucks.
Goodall’s institute is focused in part on expanding chimpanzee habitat in Gombe and working with local villages to rehabilitate denuded land and help create green corridors between Gombe and other areas with chimpanzees within the vast Congo basin.
The softspoken Goodall began her briefing in dramatic fashion, by imitating the wild call of a chimpanzee.
It could be interpreted as a cry for help — both for the primates and for the organisations working to protect them — as Goodall acknowledged that the conservation efforts could suffer a crippling blow over the next year and beyond due to the global financial crisis.
She said that the downturn has made it more difficult to raise money for her work and for local governments to conduct or enforce conservation initiatives. – AFP