There is an urgent need to develop well-defined strategies for the long-term conservation of chimpanzees and gorillas in the Congo Basin. The Goualougo Triangle Ape Project is a site-based conservation and research program that employs both traditional and innovative research methods to conduct applied research that addresses important issues related to the conservation of ape populations and their habitats.
Apes and Logging
A significant number of remaining chimpanzee and gorilla populations in Western Equatorial Africa reside in active timber concessions, many of which are within areas identified as being exceptional for the conservation of these apes. The conservation outlook of these endangered apes would improve significantly if forestry companies were prepared to make a few changes to management policies in logging concessions. One of the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project’s main scientific objectives is to document the effects of logging operations on apes in northern Congo and use this information to develop and evaluate recommendations to reduce the impact of timber extraction on chimpanzees and gorillas.
We have outlined specific recommendations for reducing the impact of commercial logging on wild apes, many of which can be implemented within the framework of sustainable, reduced-impact logging at little or no additional cost. These include:
Collaborating with Conservation Scientists
Identifying Important Ape Food Trees for Protection
Recent reports have shown that central chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) and western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) populations in central Africa are rapidly declining due to disease epidemics, commercial bushmeat hunting, and habitat destruction. The extent of these declines may never be known because precise baseline ape density estimates are not available from most central African forests. Even when abundance estimates are available, the survey methods have been criticized as biased, limited in their ability to detect trends, and lacking causal inference. These methods must be refined and precise ape density estimates obtained to ensure strategic and appropriate conservation planning that would permit the survival of remaining chimpanzee and gorilla populations in central Africa.
An advanced understanding of ape feeding ecology and floristic diversity is required to develop more comprehensive strategies to mitigate the negative impacts of logging on chimpanzees and gorillas. In theory, ape habitat selectivity is driven by abundance and distribution of food resources (both non-timber and timber tree species). The Goualougo Triangle Ape Project has documented more than a decade of observations of ape feeding ecology within the dense lowland forests of the Congo Basin. In addition, we have established two identical phenological monitoring circuits of chimpanzee and gorilla food species. These individual trees are monitored once a month to assess the relationship between resource availability (fruit, flower and leaf production) and ape behavioral ecology.
Our recent spatial analyses of suitable ape habitat shows that northern Congo is comprised of a complex mosaic of heterogeneous forest types across differing conservation scenarios. Most researchers assume unlogged and logged forests differ in the availability of ape resources, but a direct link between availability and quantity of ape forage has yet to be demonstrated. The scientists of the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project have conducted botanical inventories in logged and unlogged forests to inform us of similarities and differences between these two conservation scenarios. Further, remote sensing is proving to be a critical tool for assessing and monitoring forests and wildlife in the Congo Basin. Collaborating with scientists from the Woods Hole Research Center, we utilized satellite imagery to compare ape habitats in the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park and Odzala National Park which are both located in northern Republic of Congo [Devos et al 2008 Comparing Ape Habitats in Northern Congo]. Continuing our effort to better understand ape distribution and habitat use in equatorial Africa, we are working with scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology to identify the distribution of preferred habitats for chimpanzees and gorillas over large spatial scales and monitor the effects of mechanized logging on the apes across the region. For more information on ape ecology see [Morgan et al. 2006 Chimpanzee and Gorilla Feeding Ecology]
Preserving Fragile Cultures
Our knowledge of the variation in chimpanzee tool using behavior has continuously expanded with insights from long-term research sites and initiation of new field studies of wild chimpanzees populations. However, more than 50% of the range of chimpanzees in western equatorial Africa is currently allocated to logging concessions which is more than double the area of their range encompassed by protected areas (17%). Commercial logging in northern Congo began at a relatively low intensity in the 1970’s, primarily focusing on extraction of mahogany (Entandrophragma sp.). However, advances in forestry technology and changes in timber product market values over the last ten years have tripled the number of tree species in northern Congo that are attractive to the international market. It has been proposed that local extinction, hunting pressure, selective logging, and habitat loss affect the transmission process of the traditional behaviors of wild great apes. This means that we are in a race against time to document and protect chimpanzee cultures in the Congo Basin. For more information about tool use in the Goualougo Triangle see [Sanz and Morgan. 2013 The Social Context of Chimpanzee Tool Use]