SAGA Principle

Content published: November 19, 1998 (modified on September 23, 2006 and March 01, 2017)
What are the great apes?

It is no exaggeration to claim that the great apes are the evolutionary cousins of humans. Evidence that has emerged over the past decades from a variety of disciplines as widely distributed as paleontology, physical anthropology, biochemistry, molecular biology, neuroscience, ethology, ecology, and psychology has shown that the distance separating the living great apes from humans is smaller than ever before envisaged. Long-term studies conducted on the demography, reproduction, and cultural behavior of wild populations have irreversibly reduced the man-made gap between apes and ourselves. As a result, most of the observed differences now appear quantitative rather than qualitative in nature.

What is SAGA?

SAGA stands for "Support for African/Asian Great Apes". SAGA was founded in November 19th 1998 by Japanese primatologists in collaboration with Western colleagues such as Jane Goodall and Jan van Hooff in an effort to support our evolutionary neighbors, the great apes. SAGA is a spiritual descendant of CCCC (Committee for Conservation and Care of Chimpanzees) formed in Chicago in November, 1986. CCCC was organized by researchers to save the chimpanzees. SAGA extended CCCC's idea by including all of the great apes as targets and by expanding to include support not only from researchers but also zoo persons, media persons, and the general public with an interest in the continued existence of the great apes. SAGA is a non-governmental, non-profit, and non-membership consortium that aims to facilitate the conservation of the great apes and their natural habitats, to promote animal welfare in captive populations, and to put an end to invasive research. Human activity in the recent past has forced all great ape species to the brink of extinction in the wild. In captivity, individuals are subjected to experiments at biomedical and other research facilities, often involving invasive treatments, in studies of, for example, viral diseases and gene therapy. The numbers of great apes in invasive experiments of this kind are likely to increase unless we attempt to and succeed in finding an acceptable solution to improve the situation under which our closest relatives must exist in captivity as well as in the wild.

What should be done?

We must, therefore, further stress how small the distances are that separate chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans from humans. We must also bear in mind that all the great ape species are listed as "endangered" in CITES: their numbers in the wild are decreasing. In addition, captive populations often suffer from inadequate management. Individuals survive 40 to 50 years, in some cases even longer. These characteristics are not congruent with the standards for so-called experimental animals. We believe that there need to be serious constraints on the use of great apes in invasive studies. We therefore propose the following agenda to promote our scientific understanding of all great apes.
First, we shall undertake action for the conservation of the great apes and their natural habitat.
Second, we shall endeavor to enhance the quality of life of the great apes in captivity.
Third, we shall not use the great apes as subjects in invasive studies, but promote our scientific understanding through non-invasive techniques.

For our purposes, the word non-invasive refers to treatment that causes irreversible deficits of normal function. In short, illegal or non-ethical treatment prohibited in the case of human subjects is to be likewise prohibited in the great apes.

Our hopes and perspectives

Based on this agenda, we hope to halt current trends of habitat destruction in the wild and the invasive use of great apes in captivity worldwide. Researchers from various disciplines, zoo persons, media persons, and the general public with a concern for our evolutionary neighbors, need to work together to support wildlife conservation programs and to develop suitable conditions for the life of the great apes in captivity.
We hope that you will demonstrate your approval and support for our attempt toward a better life for the great apes in the 21st century. The great apes can form a good bridge between human beings and the rest of the natural world. They clearly allow us to appreciate that the "humans vs. animals" dichotomy is no longer valid. We share the earth. The great apes are our evolutionary neighbors and are symbolic of the symbiosis of all living creatures, the biodiversity on the planet, and the importance of ecosystems.

Note: as of autumn 2006 all invasive biomedical research on chimpanzees in Japan was stopped completely thanks to extensive support from the public; all chimpanzees formerly involved in biomedical research have now been retired and are housed comfortably at Kumamoto Sanctuary, run by Kyoto University.