Deforestation threatens chimpanzees

Dramatic decline of the population in the Ivory Coast

Gogol, an adult male and a member of a chimpanzee group in Tai National Park, was probably killed by poachers in February 2008. In Marahoué National Park is illegally cleared. The rainforest must give way to cocoa plantations. © MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology / Geneviève Campbell / Sonja Metzger
Read out

For the first time in 17 years, researchers have counted chimpanzees in Ivory Coast, West Africa, and found that the population has fallen dramatically in just one generation and that the animals have disappeared in many regions. Reasons for this are above all deforestation and poaching.

These findings underscore the need for accurate, regular and systematic monitoring of these free-living populations to save our closest relatives from extinction, scientists write in the journal Current Biology.

Our closest living relatives, the great apes, are classified as "endangered" or even "critically endangered" on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Their populations are declining more and more in their spread areas. The great apes are endangered mainly by poaching, the destruction of their habitats and by diseases.

Since they, like humans, have a low reproduction rate, they are particularly vulnerable. In particular, chimpanzees invest up to five years in the education of their offspring. During this time, the kittens learn the amazing technical and social skills they need to survive.

First counts in the 1980s

In the 1950s, the population of chimpanzees (Pantroglodytes verus) of the Ivory Coast was first estimated at about 100, 000 animals. About 30 years later, when the first national chimpanzee count took place, the estimate had to be revised downwards to 8, 000 to 12, 000 animals. Although there was already a strong decline in population at that time, the Ivory Coast was still home to about half of the western chimpanzees living on Earth. display

As part of a study at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, a nationwide chimpanzee count was again carried out. The result was catastrophic: The monkey researchers found 90 percent less chimpanzee sleeping nests than in the data collection 17 years ago. Population decline was highest in unprotected forest areas where no evidence of chimpanzees was found. The destruction of the forest and poaching are the main reasons for this population decline.

Threat does not stop at protected areas

According to the scientists, chimpanzees in the protected areas are also threatened as soon as the surveillance ceases or external financing and support are temporarily interrupted. For example, the researchers assumed that they would find in Marahou National Park one of the largest chimpanzee populations of the Ivory Coast. But just a few years after international conservation projects were shelved due to political unrest in the country, the park was taken over by farmers. The majority of his fauna has now disappeared.

Christophe Boesch, who leads the research team, says: "This study shows dramatically that wildlife conservation activities can only be successful if long-term funding is ensured." Genevi ve Campbell, first author the study, the data collected. I followed my routes in the Marahou National Park, much as I had followed those in classified forests throughout the country, where I often had to look long and arduous to get around even original B "To find something, " she says. "It was especially sad that I found only one single chimpanzee sleeping nest in this park, where 234 nests had been found along the same route during the last count". The one nest Campbell had found was in an area that had just been cleared for farming. The future of the chimpanzees in Marahou National Park is hopeless in their view.

"A jewel for future generations"

The few chimpanzee populations remaining on the Ivory Coast are spread over a wide area. One of the few survivable populations is in the Ta National Park. However, this is extremely endangered by poaching. In addition, the external financing of biodiversity projects will expire in 2010. This could have catastrophic consequences for this last stronghold of the chimpanzees on the Ivory Coast. The researchers are therefore calling on donors to see the Ta National Park as a priority for the conservation of chimpanzees still living on Côte d'Ivoire, and for post-2010 funding To consider.

Paul Kouam N'Goran explains: The disappearance of forest areas in our country forces people to travel long distances to the Ta National Park, where forest areas are still preserved and the right climate is available, to farm. This in turn increases the direct pressure on the park. We must protect this forest and regard it as a jewel for the generations to come. "

Species protection can work

In addition, according to the Max Planck researchers, more data collection in the habitat of Western chimpanzees should be financed in order to better assess their status and localize the remaining survivable populations. If recalculations are performed and the researchers have gathered more information, they can better assess whether the population decline covers the entire range and whether their IUCN status in "Dangerously" must be changed.

Hjalmar K hl, a monitoring expert on free-living populations, explains: This study, as dramatic as the results may be, shows above all that protection of species can really work, but that it does requires all parties to engage in a long-term commitment

(MPG, 15.10.2008 - DLO)