Primate Specialist Group

The Section on Great Apes (SGA)
of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group

Great apes are special in many respects. More than any other species, they are genetically, behaviorally and physiologically similar to humans. They have enduring bonds between family members, use a variety of different objects as tools, hunt cooperatively, and many of their gestures and postures for communication are similar to ours. As such they are an important link to our evolutionary history. Great apes are also ideal “flagships” for protecting tropical forests.

Traditionally, the Primate Specialist Group dealt with great apes through its regional sections for Africa and Asia. However, it became clear that a separate section was needed to address the multiple crises confronting these important animals and to liaise with other conservation efforts, such as the UN Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP). To address these needs, a separate section of the PSG was created to focus on great ape conservation in both Africa and Southeast Asia. The Section on Great Apes (SGA) is a group of 140 leading great ape scientists and conservationists, with an Executive Committee of 22 senior scientists.

The objective of the SGA is to prevent the extinction of great apes by providing sound technical advice on issues regarding their survival using the most up-to-date information available on their numbers and distributions and the threats they face.

The goals of the SGA are therefore:

To provide scientific information about great apes upon which sounds policy decisions can be made;
To act as a clearinghouse of information for great apes.

The SGA's mission statement is:

“The Section on Great Apes is a group of experts active in research on and conservation of great apes. Its role is to promote conservation action on behalf of the great apes, based on the best-available technical information. It serves as a forum for discussion and information exchange; it establishes guidelines for best practices in research and conservation; its members formulate action plans, and advise on effective protection of great ape populations.”


1. The SGA is responsible for the Red List Assessments for each species and subspecies of great ape.

2. The SGA is responsible for making recommendations on taxonomic decisions regarding great apes to the Primate Specialist Group, which in turn informs IUCN policy as a whole.

3. The SGA produces IUCN-endorsed “Best Practice Guidelines” that document the most up-to date information on issues concerning great ape conservation.

Our Best Practice guidelines for great ape conservation focus on cutting edge issues and draw on the expertise of the SGA network. These best practice documents provide guidance not only to great ape scientists and field researchers, but also to development organizations, donors and governments that are funding or implementing projects that impact great apes or their habitats. IUCN endorsement adds weight and credibility to the recommendations.

Guidelines on the following six topics have been published:

  • Heath monitoring and disease control in great ape populations
  • Human-great ape conflict mitigation;
  • Reducing the impacts of commercial logging on great apes in Western Equatorial Africa
  • Re-introduction of great apes;
  • Survey and monitoring methodologies of great ape populations;
  • Tourism with great apes.

4. The SGA also produces conservation action plans that outline consensus expert opinion on priority sites and priority activities for each great ape taxon.

5. The SGA partners with the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology, UNEP-WCMC, the Jane Goodall Institute, and other conservation NGOs under the framework of the Ape Populations, Environments and Surveys (A.P.E.S.) Portal.

The A.P.E.S. Portal has the following functions:

1) an informational clearinghouse about great ape conservation;
2) a place to store great ape distribution population/monitoring information;
3) hypothesis testing;
4) policy advising.

The A.P.E.S. Portal provides information needed for long-term management and conservation strategies to save the great apes. It aims to provide an accurate global picture of the distribution and status of all great apes, and to become a valuable tool for all those working to conserve and protect the world’s remaining wild ape populations.

Integral to the A.P.E.S. Portal is the IUCN SSC A.P.E.S. database, which was developed by and is managed by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.