Ex­tinc­tion ahead

The Nige­ria-Cameroon Chim­panzee faces ex­tinc­tion as it fights a los­ing bat­tle against in­nu­mer­able threats

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - ABHIJIT MO­HANTY

The Nige­ria-Cameroon Chim­panzee, among the rarest of its kind, could be gone in two decades

CHIM­PANZEES, WHO share about 98 per cent of their genes with hu­mans, are fast head­ing to­wards ex­tinc­tion. Among the rarest sub­species is the Nige­ria-Cameroon Chim­panzee—less than 6,000 are left in the forests north of the Sanga River in Cameroon and in south­west­ern Nige­ria. It has been des­ig­nated as a crit­i­cally en­dan­gered species by the In­ter­na­tional Union of Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture (iucn), and if ur­gent steps are not taken, sci­en­tists say it will be­come ex­tinct in less than two decades.

The threats to their ex­is­tence are many. In the drier parts of their habi­tat range such as the Mbam Djerem Na­tional Park, the Ba­menda High­lands in Cameroon and Gashaka Gumti and Mam­billa in Nige­ria, pas­toral­ists have en­cour­aged for­est fires to pro­vide more graz­ing land for their live­stock, which are sub­se­quently be­ing con­verted to farm­lands. Habi­tat de­struc­tion has in­creased noise dis­trubances, forc­ing the Nige­ria-Cameroon Chim­panzees to move into ar­eas oc­cu­pied by other chim­panzee com­mu­ni­ties, where they face ag­gres­sion, re­sult­ing in fa­tal­i­ties.

Con­ser­va­tion bi­ol­o­gists Jen­nifer Arubemi Agaldo, Gwom Thomas Gwom and Paul Ter­soo Aper­verga con­ducted a sur­vey

in 2011-2012 and found the habi­tat ar­eas lit­tered with spent car­tridges, wire snares and logged trees. This in­di­cates that chim­panzees are un­der se­ri­ous threat from hunt­ing and poach­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, and the pres­ence of logged wood in­di­cates habi­tat de­struc­tion and degra­da­tion.

Bush­meat and habi­tats

The threats to their sur­vival are fur­ther ex­ac­er­bated by the rapid growth of hu­man pop­u­la­tion. As hu­man pop­u­la­tion has grown steadily in both Cameroon and Nige­ria, the ease of ob­tain­ing arms, more ef­fi­cient trans­port sys­tems, and higher fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives to sup­ply ur­ban mar­kets with “bush­meat” and other for­est com­modi­ties have led to a sit­u­a­tion, where swathes of land have been cleared of wildlife and of­ten also their for­est cover. Hunt­ing of chim­panzees to sup­ply the “bush­meat” mar­ket and to a lesser ex­tent, to pro­vide body parts for tra­di­tional medicine is one of the great­est threats to their sur­vival.

“In re­cent years, hunt­ing for bush­meat, which was once a sub­sis­tence ac­tiv­ity, has be­come heav­ily com­mer­cialised and much of the meat goes to ur­ban res­i­dents, who can af­ford to pay pre­mium prices,” says Kari Jack­son, who heads su­rudev, a Cameroon­based non-profit that works with com­mu­ni­ties on bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion. In­ter­est­ingly, many of the car­casses found in the eastern Nige­rian mar­kets come from Cameroon, but are traded in Nige­ria where bush­meat fetches higher prices.

Satel­lite im­ages show that more than 3,000 hectares (ha) of rain­for­est bor­der­ing the Dja Fau­nal Re­serve in Cameroon’s South­ern re­gion have been de­stroyed. The cleared for­est, which was un­til re­cently the habi­tat for the west­ern-low­land go­ril­las, chim­panzees and man­drills, was given to a Chi­nese com­pany for palm oil plan­ta­tions. The land was given to the com­pany even though it is lo­cated in the Dja Fau­nal Re­serve, which is a des­ig­nated “un­esco World Her­itage Site”.

In 2009, a Cameroon min­is­ter awarded a 99-year lease to more than 73,000 ha of land to Her­ak­les Farms, an Amer­i­can palm and tim­ber com­pany. Though land ten­ure laws pro­hibit leas­ing land more than 40 ha, a pres­i­den­tial de­cree was ob­tained in 2013—four years af­ter Her­ak­les ar­rived in Cameroon—to fa­cil­i­tate op­er­a­tions. Based in New York, Her­ak­les Farms has claimed that its palm oil project in Cameroon’s South-West Re­gion would cul­ti­vate in an area of lit­tle con­ser­va­tion value.

But a re­cent study by Dschang Univer­sity in Cameroon, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ger­many’s Univer­sity of Got­tin­gen and sup­ported by Green­peace In­ter­na­tional, Save Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Fund of Ger­many and wwf Ger­many, in­di­cates that this claim un­der­mines the rich bio­di­ver­sity of the area. It says that the com­pany plans to con­vert the neigh­bour­ing ar­eas into palm oil plan­ta­tions, which means cru­cial habi­tats used by chim­panzees and other en­dan­gered an­i­mals will be wiped out. “Our sur­vey shows that the area is of high con­ser­va­tion value, while some parts could even act as a chim­panzee sanc­tu­ary,” says Kadiri Serge Bobo of Dschang Univer­sity. The de­struc­tion of habi­tats has frag­mented chim­panzee pop­u­la­tions, and those that re­main are small and iso­lated.

One of the great­est threats is the hunt­ing of chim­panzees to sup­ply bush­meat to ur­ban mar­kets

Com­mu­nity ef­forts

In the last decade, there has been a grow­ing con­cern to save and pro­tect this en­dan­gered species, espe­cially among some non-prof­its with the sup­port of in­ter­na­tional agen­cies, who are play­ing a cru­cial role to in­volve lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties in wildlife con­ser­va­tion-based projects. For in­stance, su­rudev has been work­ing with the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties in the Kom-Wum For­est Re­serve. “We have es­tab­lished Vil­lage For­est Pro­tec­tion Com­mit­tees who pro­vide train­ing to mem­bers and lo­cal peo­ple on the im­por­tance of forests, wildlife pro­tec­tion and the re­gen­er­a­tion of for­est cover,” says Jack­son.

Though th­ese con­ser­va­tion ef­forts have cre­ated an en­abling en­vi­ron­ment, this is just a drop in the ocean. A prag­matic ap­proach is needed to pro­tect th­ese rarest apes. More­over, con­ser­va­tion re­search is re­quired to steer ini­tia­tives in the right di­rec­tion and at­tain sus­tain­abil­ity. By iden­ti­fy­ing the eco­log­i­cal fac­tors that in­flu­ence dis­tri­bu­tion, rang­ing pat­terns and core habi­tat re­quire­ments, it is pos­si­ble to iden­tify suit­able chim­panzee habi­tats. “Gov­ern­ments need to ur­gently de­velop a par­tic­i­pa­tory land use plan­ning process prior to al­lo­cat­ing in­dus­trial con­ces­sions. Projects that are be­ing de­vel­oped with­out ad­e­quate com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pa­tion should not be al­lowed,” says Filip Ver­be­len of Green­peace In­ter­na­tional. “If proac­tive strate­gies to mit­i­gate the ef­fects of large scale habi­tat con­ver­sion are not im­ple­mented soon, we can ex­pect a rapid de­cline in African pri­mate di­ver­sity,” says Joshua Lin­der, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of an­thro­pol­ogy at James Madi­son Univer­sity, Vir­ginia, usa.„

Less than 6,000 Nige­ri­aCameroon Chim­panzees are left in the wild

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