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Apes exhibition and lecture by Dr. Johannes Refisch

Date 30/11/2017

An exhibition on the theme of "Great Apes - their fate is ours" will be held in the Gymnastics Room of the German School until the 7th of December. The exhibition shows photographs of great apes that Dr Johannes Refisch has taken in Asia and Africa. Dr Refisch heads the United Nations GRASP (Great Apes Survival Partnership) programme and has been working for more than 20 years on primates.

Johannes Refisch presented lectures at the DSN on the 14th and 22nd of November. Well-attended, not only by the students of our school but also their parents and friends, they proved to be interesting and very informative. Although we live in Africa, we do not know that we humans share more than 98% of our genome with chimpanzees and bonobos.  The photographer and biologist introduced us to the fascinating world of primates, whom he first met in the wild in 1991. 

Since then, he has devoted himself to the protection of primates, whose existence is extremely threatened. While about 1 million apes lived on earth 100 years ago, this number has now been reduced to about one third of the original number. Ultimately, it is we, the people, the closest relatives to these apes, who are threatening their habitat. “The world has discovered Africa as a great source of minerals”, Refisch says. He uses the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo as an example. Gold, diamonds, and coltan, a mineral used in the production of mobile phones and computers, are dug up extensively. But above all, however, it is cutting down of forests, charcoal production and the practice of slash and burn that are causing the enormous destruction of rain forests. In Asia the creation of palm oil plantations are endangering the habitat of orangutans.

When we think of the word Ebola, we only think about its effects on people.  Did you know that the devastating Ebola virus also killed tens of thousands of gorillas and chimpanzees?

Since the early 1990s, the protection of apes has been Dr Refisch’s project. At the time he was working as an intern in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in eastern Congo. The gorilla population there has declined by more than 80%, which is mainly due to the ongoing turmoil of war.

Since 2001 Dr Refisch has been working for GRASP under the umbrella of UNEP. In all 23 countries of the world, where apes are still found today, efforts are being made to implement unique animal welfare programmes. An example of this is the training of gamekeepers in Congo to combat poaching of gorillas.

According to Dr Refisch, international coordination is the only way to be successful.  Without the involvement of the local communities, however, these efforts cannot be successful. Eco-friendly income opportunities for securing livelihoods must be created - a huge playing field. “Green economy” is another key phrase that Refisch uses, talking about sustainable business practices that take climate protection into account. This requires a courageous environmental and development policy and... a lot of money. This is the only way to prevent the extinction of apes, according to Dr Refisch’s guiding principle.

Text: Ewa Kühne

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