H.R. 4320 The Great Ape Conservation Act, H.R. 3407 Keystone Species Conservation Act

Jamie Rappaport Clark


June 20, 2000


Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's views on H.R. 3407, the Keystone Species Conservation Act of 1999 and H.R. 4320, the Great Ape Conservation Act of 2000. On behalf of the Administration, the Service would like to express support for the intent of the legislation, which addresses some of the most urgent conservation issues in the world today, but we would like to remind the Subcommittee that these bills are not currently in the President's fiscal year 2001 budget. In addition, we do have some clarifications and recommended changes to the bills. We commend you and the Ranking Member of the Full Committee, Mr. Miller, for recognizing the important role the United States can play in the conservation of the earth's wildlife and environment and your continued commitment to the conservation of endangered species the world over.

The Service currently administers several successful species conservation programs which support on-the-ground protection, research, and education efforts to conserve African elephants, rhinoceros and tigers, and most recently, Asian elephants. We work closely with African and Asian governments and local and international conservation organizations to identify and support high-priority actions to protect these species and their habitats. Our experience has shown that relatively modest sums, if judiciously applied to well-designed and implemented projects, can leverage considerable resources and, just as importantly, the interest of communities, governments, and the world.

These projects play a key role in gaining better understanding of a species. Often, the number and distribution of these highly endangered species is poorly known. There is evidence that important populations are destroyed even before conservationists are aware of their peril. Even when the danger is recognized, mounting effective action is usually difficult and often dangerous. But together with our international partners, we see clear signs of the effectiveness of our combined efforts. The lessons we learn encourage optimism and help point the way to increased action in a world of increasing threat.

The proposed legislation for H.R. 3407, the Keystone Species Conservation Act of 1999, and H.R. 4320, the Great Ape Conservation Act of 2000, provide two potentially important mechanisms for addressing the conservation needs of wildlife species throughout the world. Modeled after the African Elephant Conservation Act of 1988, the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act of 1994, and the Asian Elephant Conservation Act of 1997, the new legislation acknowledges the problems of species decline and insufficient resources to address the threats facing various species.

The Secretary of the Interior would be responsible for implementation of both Acts with authority to make grants designed to benefit various species. We would like to acknowledge that the Agency for International Development (USAID) plays an important role in consulting with the Service on the other international conservation laws, and we believe, they should have a similar role in these bills. We recommend that language similar to that used in the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act and the Asian Elephant Conservation Act be added to these bills to provide for a consultative role for USAID. The Service would integrate the administration of this new legislation with our existing responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act and other Multinational Species Conservation Acts, as well as our experience gained through more than 20 years of participation in cooperative wildlife programs around the world.


The Keystone Species Conservation Act presents a broader approach to international species conservation that provides for greater flexibility to fund on-the-ground activities for selected species as priorities and needs arise. It has the potential to cover an array of internationally threatened animal species, currently listed either under the Endangered Species Act or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and not currently covered by a separate fund such as rhinos, tigers, and the Asian and African elephants. Keystone species are generally recognized as those that enrich ecosystem functions by their activities and effects, often in disproportion to their numerical abundance. Their removal usually causes negative changes in ecosystem structure structure
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and loss of diversity. Because of the important roles these species have in maintaining ecosystem integrity, targeting them for protection and conservation provides excellent opportunities to maintain or restore whole ecosystems. For example, at the moment there are several excellent opportunities available to foster conservation of the world's sea turtles and great apes, which would be a priority if not for the companion Great Ape Conservation Act. However, under the current species specific bills, there is no funding available to address these emerging global issues. Present inaction will only escalate future costs. The Keystone Species Conservation Act would provide the flexibility necessary to address such issues.

A basic element of implementing the Keystone Species Conservation Act would be an initial planning effort to identify specific regions of the globe where clusters of endangered and threatened species occur. This, in turn, would allow us to focus our attention on especially sensitive habitats and ecosystems, often referred to as "hot spots," where our efforts would serve a number of vulnerable species at a time. We would use existing global analyses combined with Service technical expertise to accomplish this exercise. We do recommend that the legislation include language to clarify that 100 percent of the funding in this bill is intended to be spent outside of the United States. The bill is not clear on that point, and theoretically, funding under this bill could be spent in the United States. We support the idea of funding a species whose range may overlap with the United States. However, we believe the intent of the bill is to focus funding in other countries, and the bill should be clear on that point.

After species are identified, we would need to establish a species priority system to determine the best way to allocate available funds; establish a larger pool of experts to review the diverse clientele of candidate species; and, identify partners for under-recognized but important candidate species. This could result in a somewhat slower mobilization time due, in part, to limited existing administrative resources within the Service. We would need to establish a strategic and equitable selection process to ensure that we fund the highest priority species needs focused on a strategic initiative, and do not allow funding to be so widely distributed to address widespread emergencies, that the funding is ineffective.

The Service recommends the consideration of a somewhat broader definition of keystone species, in addition to those listed in the proposed bill, to include "other species of particular biological importance or of value as flagships for establishment of wildlife conservation initiatives". The addition of this language would allow for the implementation of several types of proactive conservation initiatives with great leveraging power, plus the potential to conserve species of concern before they suffer the plight of becoming threatened or endangered. While first priority for limited funding would go toward the species at greatest risk, the authority to address other species can be important. For example, for species like the koala, which was just listed under the Endangered Species Act, such flexibility may have had a significant impact on the conservation of the species prior to the necessity for listing. We want to note that just because a species is listed under the Endangered Species Act or CITES does not mean it is a "keystone" species.


The Great Ape Conservation Act would concentrate attention on four specific forms of primates. Most recently, the plight of the great apes has alerted world-wide attention and organized a large and active constituency for their conservation. This constituency would form a base for partnership, cooperation, and support. Modeled after the existing species-specific bills, administration of a grants program for great apes could begin promptly. The Service believes this legislation could be strengthened by expanding the definition of conservation to include reference to "sustaining viable populations" as well as preventing their diminution, and adding additional illustrations of wildlife management activities such as "development of local human resources towards more effective conservation implementation," "training of local law enforcement officials in the interdiction and prevention of the illegal killing of great apes," and "strengthening the capacity of local institutions to deliver conservation programs."

Great apes inhabit areas where their study and conservation is an enormous challenge. Once protected by the isolation of densely forested and sometimes unexplored habitat, great apes experience increased pressure from human populations invading and changing their world. Roads built by logging and mining companies furnish hunters and slash-and-burn agriculturalists access to once remote forests. Growing human populations demand more and more resources from the forest; land for cultivation; highly-prized tropical lumber species; diamonds and gold; and perhaps most menacingly for forest wildlife, the meat from wild animals. In many places where commercial bushmeat operations are taking place, the meat from apes is the most prized and fetches the highest prices in far-flung markets, where some urban dwellers can afford to buy such luxury commodities as gorilla and chimpanzee.

Apes are by their biological nature extremely vulnerable species. They have complex social grouping, low reproductive rates and grow relatively slowly. In 1960, more than 1 million chimpanzees populated the dense forests of Africa. Today there are less than 200,000, and their numbers continue to fall at an alarming rate.

Gorillas were only discovered by science relatively recently. Previously considered a single species, gorillas were subsequently divided into two species and five subspecies. The eastern gorilla includes the mountain gorilla, of which only about 600 survive in the Virunga volcanoes area of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the distinct but yet unnamed gorilla of Uganda's Bwindi (Impenetrable Forest), and the eastern lowland gorilla, also known as Grauer's gorilla. This latter subspecies was estimated in the 1950's at 5,000 to 15,000 in a range of about 100,000 square kilometers. In a 1994-1995 survey, the total Grauer's gorilla population was estimated at 17,000. Eighty-six percent of Grauer's gorillas were found in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in eastern DRC. However, Congo's civil war has dealt a severe blow to this population. Park officials estimate that over the last 2-3 years, Kahuzi-Biega has lost half of its rare Grauer's gorillas. The second species consists of two subspecies in central and western Africa. The western lowland gorilla numbers 110,000 and the Cross River gorilla, which survives in a critically endangered population estimated in the hundreds.

Bonobos, or Pygmy Chimpanzees as they were once called, live in only one country ­ the central and western DRC. Less than 10,000 exist, and their future is extremely tentative due to the bushmeat market and the destruction of their forest habitat by loggers and agriculturists.

In Asia, similar trends are evident among the apes. The orangutan is found in mature primary forests on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and on the island of Borneo, specifically in the Indonesian state of Kalimantan and the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah. Logging and human disturbance has so reduced viable habitat that numbers have fallen dramatically. Competition with humans and hunting, especially of young for the pet trade, has greatly contributed to the species' decline.

We do recommend that the scope of the legislation be expanded to include "gibbons." Gibbons are usually referred to as "lesser apes" and are currently found in the remaining primary forests of Southeast and South Asia. Gibbons are highly threatened by loss of habitat to cultivation and commercial logging. The number of gibbons is not known, but the population trend is clear, and the trend is rapidly downward.

In Northeast India, the western-most range for gibbons along with Bangladesh, habitat loss is jeopardizing the Hoolock gibbon's survival. The results of a Service-supported Indo-U.S. survey conducted between 1994-99 indicate the presence of Hoolock gibbons in isolated forest patches throughout Northeast India. However, they continue to be indiscriminately killed primarily for food, but also for use in religious ceremonies and traditional medicine. Many species such as those like the Hoolock gibbon are least able to adjust to life without the forests, demonstrating a rapid decline in numbers.

The overarching commonality of all of these species of apes, great and lesser, is their closeness to the human species, and their imperilment at the hands of humanity. Together with range state governments and other organizations, we can act to prevent the destruction of the tropical forests and extinction of the apes.


Implementation of the Great Apes Conservation Act and the Keystone Species Conservation Act by the Service would be based on the pattern established in the previous Multinational Species Conservation Act initiatives. The Service would develop a grant program with a call for proposals distributed to potential cooperators from regional and range country agencies and organizations, including CITES partners and the CITES Secretariat. The Acts' criteria for proposal approval gives the Service clear guidance, and priority would be given to proposals that directly support and enhance the various species' long-term conservation and include necessary matching funds.

All appropriations available through the conservation funds would be allocated as quickly and as efficiently as possible. We expect that species' range countries and international organizations would submit a variety of conservation proposals for support including research, management, conflict resolution, community outreach and education, law enforcement, CITES implementation, and local capacity building. Every effort would be made to maximize the effectiveness of the funding made available under these acts by leveraging local monies and in-kind support for projects. We would aim to achieve a match of two non-federal dollars for every federal one, the goal of our existing multi-national species conservation funds.

Either legislation would authorize the expenditure of 3% of allocated funds for administration purposes. Our experience with the existing Multinational Species Conservation Funds to date indicates that this level of support may not be adequate to achieve expected results at the current allocation levels. Virtually all projects under such legislation are implemented in developing countries where basic infrastructure and trained human resources are severely limited. This requires that much more intensive effort be put into project development, oversight, and evaluation than would otherwise be necessary. The Service would like to explore further with the Committee how the true costs of administering the proposed legislation might be more adequately addressed.

These bills contain specific language that highlights the important role law enforcement, outreach, education, habitat conservation and international trade play in species conservation. The Service has a strong commitment to support global efforts in these areas and has provided training and expertise to foreign countries with funding from outside sources. We are concerned that the availability of grant funds in this bill will lead to an increase in requests for technical assistance that the Service does not have the financial resources to provide. At the same time, the Service has submitted budget requests for FY 2001 that would directly complement this proposed legislation by providing the resources necessary to augment our global assistance without having to propose modifications to this draft legislation. We, therefore, ask the members of the Committee to support the Service's FY 2001 budget increases that address law enforcement, CITES and international conservation/migratory birds as a cost-effective way to set the goals of this proposed legislation in motion as expeditiously as possible.

Given the success under the African Elephant, Rhinoceros and Tiger, and Asian Elephant Conservation Acts, we expect that the new legislation would make additional contributions to conservation, complementing the existing programs and providing opportunities to extend our programs to additional species. The message this legislation can send to the people of the world is an important one; that we in the United States have a responsibility and a willingness to help in the conservation of our global heritage.

Disclaimer: All statements are not the opinions or position of those testifying, rather they are the official positions taken by the Administration.