While as much as 12 percent of the land on Earth has been set aside for conservation, global biodiversity continues to decline. Ape habitat is particularly vulnerable, as it is predominantly hemmed in and fragmented by agricultural land and subject to legal or illegal logging and mining, even in areas that are ostensibly protected. In some of the most critical areas for apes, land ownership is undefined, disputed, or nominally controlled by indigenous people with limited political and economic power.
“Tenure,” the right to possess, access, and use land, is a critical consideration for conservation. An important principle of international law, the concept of “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” (FPIC), requires outside organizations and businesses to negotiate with inhabitants of any given community for the right to use their land. Global Witness has created the Forest Transparency Report Card, which ranks developing counties in Africa and Latin America on their forest-management practices. In the long term, the survival of wild apes will require comprehensive land-use plans, with input from all stakeholders, including the local people, extractive (and other) industries, government, civil society, and conservationists. Biodiversity and sustainable economic development can be achieved only by involving all stakeholders in a collaborative effort.