Projet Grands Singes

Conservation-applied research and community development for great ape conservation in non-protected forests

Project Director: Nikki Tagg

Great ape species do not only exist in protected areas, but their ranges and territories span into and beyond the more disturbed buffer zones. As part of the range-wide fight to preserve wild populations of great apes, active protection of populations living in buffer zones of parks and reserves is crucial to species’ survival. The threats faced by great apes vary across their range, but mainly comprise hunting, forest loss and fragmentation and disease epidemics. Populations of large bodied and slow reproducing species, like chimpanzees and gorillas, do not easily recover from even low hunting pressures, and rates of offtake in many cases dramatically exceed any sustainable limit. With the encroachment of humans more and more into ape habitats and the reduction of remaining forests through agriculture and logging, existing populations experience greater conflicts with people, an increased chance of virus transmission and more intense hunting pressures. Forest loss and fragmentation also leads to a reduction in bearing capacity of the habitat and can isolate individuals or populations, both physically and genetically, and climate change is likely to compound each of the existing threats to the survival of apes, by causing vegetation shifts and reducing the suitability of habitats.

Biodiversity threaths

People living in ape habitats generally live hand-to-mouth below the poverty line, with few of their basic needs being met. This is the case in the northern buffer zone of the Dja Biosphere Reserve, East region Cameroon, Central Africa, an area of exceptional conservation priority for great apes due to its great size, biodiversity and healthy populations of western lowland gorilla and central chimpanzee at the north-westernmost limit of their range. But forest resources here are heavily used. International forestry companies (and illegal loggers) exploit the timber of the forests – with greatly improved ape friendly techniques and a move towards certification of timber, such operations can be sustainable and animal populations can persist – as long as more direct risks to their survival, such as hunting, can be mitigated. Hunting for bushmeat is a traditional activity, yet increased commercialization of the bushmeat trade as a result of accessibility of firearms, the carving up of forests by logging, agriculture and human population growth and a swelling demand from towns and cities, is leading to the depletion of populations and species at local, regional and national levels.

Community development

The CRC works in this region, providing technical and logistic support to a dynamic local team (PGS) with a close collaboration with local communities in the Dja buffer zone, and coordinating conservation-applied great ape research in the forest traditionally owned by the communities and heavily used by them and timber exploiters. It is arguably impossible to study endangered species without also being concerned with their conservation, and on the flipside, informed conservation efforts require science-based evidence and support, strengthening the intricate link between research and conservation.