The money is urgently needed to combat the destruction of the planet's last few gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans and secure their natural habitat, said the UN on Wednesday.

"$25 million is the bare minimum we need, the equivalent of providing a dying man with bread and water," Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said in a press release. 

"The clock is standing at one minute to midnight for the Great Apes, animals that share more than 96% of their DNA with humans. If we lose any Great Ape species, we will be destroying a bridge to our own origins, and with it part of our own humanity." 

Survival plan

The appeal was jointly made by UNEP and the UN Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) ahead of a meeting, starting on Wednesday, to frame a "survival plan" for the four Great Ape species. 

The greatest enemy of Ape
species is mankind

The meeting gathers donor agencies, zoologists and government representatives from the 23 countries that are home to these four unique species, all of which could be wiped out in the wild within 50 years at best. 

The creatures' biggest enemy is mankind, which is encroaching on its habitat and ripping through ape populations for poaching, bushmeat and the live animal trade. 

Less than 10% of the remaining forest home of the Great Apes in Africa will be left relatively undisturbed by 2030 if road-building, the construction of mining camps and other schemes continue at their present pace, UNEP said. 

"Research indicates that the western chimpanzee has already disappeared from three countries: Benin, the Gambia and Togo," UNESCO expert Samy Mankoto, a specialist on biosphere reserves in Africa, said. 

Shrinking population

In Ghana, there are only 300-500 western chimps left, and in
Guinea Bissau, the population has shrunk to less than 200. 

"If we lose any Great Ape species, we will be destroying a bridge to our own origins, and with it part of our own humanity"

Klaus Toepfer
Executive director 
UN Environment Programme

Only about 600 mountain gorillas are still alive, holed up in remote pockets of highland in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), regions where poverty or strife make the creatures tempting targets for poachers or the hungry. 

The outlook for the orangutan, a native of Southeast Asia, is equally grim. In 28 years' time, there will be almost no habitat left that can be deemed "relatively undisturbed," according to a UNEP study.