GRASP Council

The GRASP Council reviews and guides the work of the partnership, and meets every 4 years.  Each partner in the voting categories A-E  participates and advises on both the previous quadrennial of work and the priorities for the forthcoming years.



The 2nd Council Meeting of the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) met in Paris, France, from 6-8 November 2012. Over 150 participants gathered for the meeting, including partners from range States, non-range States, the scientific community, non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations, multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) and UN agencies, as well as observers, including organizations that have begun the process to join GRASP.

During the meeting, participants discussed, formulated and revised the Global Strategy for Great Apes (the Global Strategy), the GRASP Priority Plan 2013-2016 (the Priority Plan), and the Rules for the Organization and Management of GRASP (the GRASP Rules). Participants also participated in three Great Ape Seminars on illegal trade, the green economy and technology.

Over the course of the three days, deliberations focused on formulating the next steps for GRASP, identifying its priorities for the period 2013-2016 and updating its founding documents accordingly. Given the seven-year gap between the first and second Council meetings, many participants lamented that communication between the partners, the Secretariat and GRASP’s organs was too infrequent. However, upon conclusion of the deliberations, participants expressed a sense of optimism going forward, with the caveat that more progress should be made and more action taken before the next Council meeting in 2016.

This report summarizes the deliberations that took place during the three days of the Council meeting.


 The four taxa of great apes – bonobo, chimpanzee, gorilla and orangutan – have long been recognized as being under continued threat. Found in the tropical forests of Africa and Asia, global numbers of both wild and captive populations have continued to decline, despite current conservation efforts, principally due to: deforestation; the bushmeat and wildlife trade; urban creep; demand for forest products and energy; mining; armed conflict; and disease. The protection and conservation of the great apes and their habitats are vital to ensuring their role in the environment, and securing the livelihoods associated with them.

During the interim period before the first Council meeting was held in September 2005, an Interim Executive Committee was established, and was chaired by Uganda, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Indonesia representing the other great ape range States. An Interim Scientific Commission was also created to provide guidance to the GRASP Secretariat until the first GRASP Council meeting.

 UNEP and UNESCO convened a preparatory experts’ meeting for the Intergovernmental Meeting on Great Apes (IGM) and the GRASP Partnership in Paris, from 26-28 November 2003. During the meeting, GRASP partners agreed on a draft global great ape conservation strategy, a draft 2003-2007 work plan and a draft set of rules to govern GRASP’s activities. These documents were to be considered at the first IGM.

In May 2005, the European Commission announced the decision to award €2.4 million to GRASP for the “preservation of forest resources and improved livelihoods of forest peoples through conservation of great apes as flagship species,” thus ensuring sufficient funds to hold the first GRASP Council meeting.

 The first IGM met from 5-6 September 2005, following which the first GRASP Council meeting convened on 7-8 September. The IGM then resumed its discussions with a High-Level Segment on 9 September. These meetings all took place in Kinshasa, DRC.

The IGM discussed the GRASP Rules, the Global Strategy, a work plan for 2003-2007, and a meeting declaration on great apes, the Kinshasa Declaration.

At its meeting, the Council considered reports on the intersessional period and elected the GRASP Executive Committee and the new GRASP Council Chair. It also adopted decisions on the 2003-2007 Work Plan, and on the GRASP Rules. The results of its deliberations on the Global Strategy were forwarded to the final plenary of the IGM for its consideration.

The IGM reconvened for a High-Level Segment, during which it heard statements by ministers and heads of delegation. It also approved the Global Strategy, which aims to lift the threat of imminent extinction facing most great ape populations, conserve their natural habitats, and ensure that interactions with humans are mutually positive and sustainable.

In addition, the IGM adopted the Kinshasa Declaration on Great Apes, which reaffirmed States’ commitment to ensuring GRASP’s success through, inter alia, urging all range States to become active partners and form strategic partnerships with the private sector. It also called for securing a constant and significant reduction in the loss of great ape populations and their habitats by 2010, and securing the future of the species and subspecies in the wild, by 2015.

The Second Council Meeting of the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) opened on Tuesday morning, 6 November 2012. Douglas Cress, GRASP Coordinator, welcomed participants, emphasizing the “partnership” aspect of GRASP and noting that its achievements are those of all the partners.

Qunli Han, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), on behalf of Gretchen Kalonji, UNESCO, highlighted GRASP as a model framework for innovative cooperation within the international community. He recalled UNESCO’s work on Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage Sites, noting that these are often habitats for great apes, and said GRASP could benefit from these networks and expertise. He highlighted GRASP’s long-term strategy and identified great apes and the green economy among the main topics for discussion at this meeting.

In a video message, Achim Steiner, Executive Director, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), lauded the participation of 21 of the 23 great apes range States, saying partnerships should be established with range States at their core. He underscored the need for the scientific community to realize that public policy is necessary, called on GRASP to be a touchstone for all stakeholders, and suggested that the outcomes of the meeting should be a roadmap for action in the future.

Jane Goodall, Founder, the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace, in a video address, said growing human populations have led to increases in human-animal conflict. She underscored the need to find alternative livelihoods for hunters and charcoal makers, and emphasized engaging with communities that rely on forests, saying that forests should be valued by villagers as well as by big corporations. Goodall noted the need to change the way humans think about and value the great apes and their habitats, and urged exploring how to make great ape conservation a global initiative.

 The Council then elected Jean-Patrick Le Duc, Director of International Relations at the French National Museum of Natural History as Chair of the meeting, and John Mshelbwala, Nigeria, as Vice-Chair. Delegates adopted the agenda (UNEP/UNESCO/GRASP/COUNCIL.2/1a, 1b) without amendment, and agreed to work in plenary, establishing contact groups as needed.

 On Tuesday morning, Aggrey Watsiba, Uganda, presented the report of the Executive Committee, noting that it was established in 2005, with an interim Committee having operated from 2003-2005 to assist with establishing the Partnership. He outlined work undertaken by the Committee, including supporting GRASP Council meetings and ensuring the full engagement of each partner. He highlighted that the Executive Committee has looked at strengthening national support for conservation in range States. Watsiba further emphasized that national focal points are an important link for the GRASP Council to carry out its work, lamented the minimal feedback received from them, and urged strengthening communications in the future.


Johannes Refisch, GRASP Secretariat

Johannes Refisch, GRASP Secretariat

Johannes Refisch, GRASP Secretariat, presented the report of the Secretariat (UNEP/UNESCO/GRASP/COUNCIL.2/8) on Tuesday morning. He highlighted developments and activities since 2005, including: the institutional structure of the Partnership; the Global Strategy adopted at the first Council meeting in 2005; the global policy component and field activities of the European Commission-funded project that took place from 2005-2009; the publication of the World Atlas of Great Apes and studies on illegal trade in great apes; joint missions with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES); the new GRASP website, mailing list and link with social networks, which have increased GRASP presence in the media; and the GRASP Strategic Review.

Serge Wich, GRASP Scientific Commission

On Tuesday morning, Serge Wich, Chair, GRASP Scientific Commission, presented the Commission’s report, noting that data collection and sharing have improved since 2007, particularly with the launch of the A.P.E.S portal. He highlighted the endangered or critically endangered status of all great apes, citing poaching, habitat loss and diseases, as major threats to the great apes populations. He outlined priorities for the Commission’s work, including: law enforcement; reduction in trade; frequent information on great apes’ conservation status; incorporation of great apes in certification programmes for extractive industries; and forest conservation.

During the ensuing discussion on the three reports presented, participants discussed the relationship between the CITES Animals Committee and the GRASP Scientific Commission, the role of the Scientific Commission in research and the need for greater communication between the GRASP Secretariat and GRASP partners going forward.

On Tuesday morning, Doug Cress introduced the GRASP-Ian Redmond Conservation Award, which will grant US$5,000 each to two young conservationists in Africa and Asia every two years, starting in 2013. Ian Redmond, Chairman, Ape Alliance, stressed that the award is meant to empower individuals and motivate innovation in great apes conservation, and expressed the hope that others, particularly those in the private sector whose commercial interests in tropical forests range in the trillions of dollars, will contribute funds to increase the size of the award.

Mali thanked Ian Redmond for his support for chimpanzee conservation in Mali.

Russ Mittermeier, GRASP Patron and President of Conservation International

Russ Mittermeier, GRASP Ambassador and President of Conservation International

On Wednesday morning, Russ Mittermeier, President of Conservation International and GRASP Ambassador, presented the work of the IUCN Primate Specialist Group in assessing great apes’ conservation status and increasing public awareness, and suggested actions for the second decade of GRASP. He identified large-scale agro-business as the biggest threat to great apes, in addition to overarching global climate change issues. He highlighted ecotourism, protected areas, and species-specific and habitat conservation funds as critical elements of successful great ape conservation efforts. Mittermeier stressed the opportunity offered by GRASP as a UN-based flagship species programme to target high-level interventions. He highlighted the need for increased access to funds, called for the inclusion of gibbons within GRASP, and recommended closer collaboration with zoos, the World Heritage Convention and the World Bank. Mittermeier also announced a commitment of US$5,000 to the GRASP-Ian Redmond Conservation Award.

On Thursday afternoon, 8 November, the Council elected the Executive Committee for 2013-2016 as follows:

Category A partners (range States): Novianto Bambang (Indonesia), Dieudonné Ankara (Congo), Aggrey Rwetsiba (Uganda), and Mamadou Sidibé (Senegal);

Category B partners (non-range States): Marianna Courouble (France) and another person to be determined;

Category C partners (sponsoring agencies): Neville Ash (UNEP), and Noeline Raondry Rakotoarisoa (UNESCO);

Category D partners (MEAs): Pia Jonsson (CITES) and another person to be determined; and

Category E partners (NGOs): Elizabeth Macfie (WCS), and Ashley Leiman (Orangutan Foundation).


Thursday evening, the report of the meeting was adopted with the proviso that amendments can be provided to the Secretariat, in writing, after the conclusion of the Council meeting.

Neville Ash congratulated the Council on progress made, lauding the Partnership for agreeing on a new focus and identifying priorities going forward. He said the Rules of Management, which were agreed on, are key to ensuring communication between the organs of GRASP, as they will strengthen the dialogue for a greater impact on great ape conservation. He reiterated UNEP’s commitment to the Partnership.


Gretchen Kalonji, UNESCO, stressed that the Council is critical for reevaluating and revising the Partnership. She applauded the focus on enhancing communication between the organs and the focus on the six priority areas.  Kalonji added that UNESCO can contribute by providing expertise and support for the required science, as well as through communication and information dissemination.


Doug Cress, GRASP


Doug Cress noted that although the Partnership had “lain fallow” for seven years, the legacy of the first IGM in 2005 was still present and helped drive progress at this meeting. He noted commitments that had been made during the meeting, including the Ramsar Convention’s promise to produce a training manual for focal points, and the doubling of the prize money for the GRASP-Ian Redmond Conservation Award through contributions from the Born Free Foundation and Conservation International.


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