The central subspecies of chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) and western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) reside in sympatry within the dense lowland forests of the Congo Basin. Historically, conservation outlooks for great apes in this region have been optimistic based on survey information indicating relatively large ape populations residing in some of the most expansive tracts of remaining intact forests in equatorial Africa. Due to the remote location and lack of access routes, human densities in these areas have been low which reduces the associated poaching pressure. This conservation scenario has changed dramatically over the past decade, due to the expanding human development and repeated emergence of Ebola hemorrhagic fever.
Several of the threats facing great apes are converging for the first time in the forests of northern Republic of Congo. As mechanized logging expands throughout the forests of central Africa, roads are being constructed in previously inaccessible tracts of intact forest. These transport networks have been directly associated with increases in hunting pressure. Great apes are especially vulnerable to hunting and habitat destruction due to slow reproduction, prolonged developmental periods and complex social behavior. Survival prospects for great apes worsen with increasing human encroachment and habitat alteration, as shown by case studies in both East and West Africa. Despite conservation efforts over the past decade, it has been estimated that ape populations will experience a dramatic decline over the next 30 years. Emergent diseases, bushmeat hunting, and commercial logging pose serious threats to the long-term survival of great apes in the region.
Working with the Congolese government and Wildlife Conservation Society-Congo, the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project is implementing a comprehensive research and conservation program that addresses the major threats to wild apes in this region. The overall mandate of the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project is to contribute to the conservation and management of chimpanzees and gorillas by identifying the ecological and social needs governing these apes and use this information to develop conservation strategies that can be replicated in other areas to ensure the long-term survival of Africa’s great apes. In order to accomplish this mandate, the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project’s research focuses on three of the major factors believed most important in influencing the long-term sustainability of their habitat which include applied conservation research, responsible forest management, and capacity building.