The bonobo is a rare ape found only in the Congo Basin
Two UK animal experts have joined forces with a sanctuary in Africa in a campaign to help ensure the future of a rare ape.
Twycross Zoo's Suzanne Boardman and conservationist Claire Pipe are setting up links with a bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The bonobo is only found in the wild in an area south of the Congo River, but a dozen of them are also at Twycross Zoo.
"It is an important species and no one has heard of it," Ms Boardman said.
"It could disappear and people in the UK wouldn't even notice."
The pair set up links with the world's only bonobo sanctuary during a recent trip to Africa.
Ms Boardman said the zoo is hoping to support the Lola Ya Bonobo centre in the Democratic Republic of Congo with at least £10,000 and professional advice from zookeepers and veterinarians from the UK.
The bonobo shares 99.6% of its DNA structure with humans, but is under threat from hunters and from habitat destruction, she said.
The bonobos at Twycross are part of an international breeding program, she said, adding that the zoo has pledged to help to secure the future of the bonobo in the wild by 2020.
There are 57 bonobos at the rescue centre and 128 in captivity around the world. The total population is estimated at between 5,000 to 20,00, but is difficult to measure, Ms Boardman said.
The zoo is hoping to further raise awareness of the little-known ape through a new bonobo programme that will be launched at the House of Lords in November 2008.
Ms Boardman said: "We wish to promote a wider understanding of this unique species and awareness of the threats it faces. If we do not act now we are at risk of losing our closest living relative".
"They are killed for bush meat by loggers or miners in the wild," she said.
The founder of the Congo centre, Claudine Andre, will attend the House of Lords event.