- Representing more than 15 countries, a group of 80 scientists, conservationists and policy makers today announced an urgent action plan to protect the endangered West African chimpanzees.
The experts recognized that there are in fact two different kinds of chimpanzee in the region under consideration, which extends from Senegal and Mali through Sierra Leone, Côte d'Ivoire, and Ghana to Nigeria. One, the Nigerian chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes vellerosus)
, occurs from the Cameroon-Nigeria border areas east to the Sanaga River. The other, the typical western chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes verus)
is found in the rest of the region. Within this region, chimps occur both in tropical rain forest habitats of the Guinean Forest Hotspot and in adjacent areas of dry forest and woodland savannah. Numbers of chimpanzees have declined from 600,000 originally to about 25,000 to 50,000 today. Each of these chimpanzees requires special conservation action to prevent its extinction, and experts identified the highest priority areas within each of these different habitat types.
The results were determined following a two-day discussion of priority regions based on criteria including: viable population; habitat quality; feasibility of conservation; urgency of threat to the area; presence of other threatened primates; and exceptional aspects of chimp culture.
"It's no coincidence that urgent conservation action is necessary for a primate species found within the Guinean Forest Hotspot, which is one of the top five hotspots for endangered primates on Earth," said Russell A. Mittermeier, CI President and United Nations Environment Programme Special Envoy for the Great Apes Survival Project. "Chimpanzees are an important flagship species for this important region and their fate mirrors much of what is in store for the vast range of species diversity found there."
"We stand to lose one of the human species closest relatives, as well as a species with one of the most fascinating and complex social systems in the Animal Kingdom," said Dr. Christophe Boesch, with the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation.
The differences in appearance between humans and chimpanzees mask a striking underlying genetic similarity. There is only a 1.3 percent genetic difference between humans and chimpanzees. As a consequence of this similarity, chimpanzees provide a special link between humans and the Animal Kingdom because of their high intelligence and abilities. Chimpanzees are the only nonhuman primates that make and use many different tools, hunt in groups for meat, and mourn their dead. Like humans, they possess complex cultures. The western chimpanzees, for example, are unique for their use of hammer-like tools to crack open nuts.
Chimpanzees are also unique with humans in their abilities to build complex social interactions demonstrating cooperation and alliances. They recognize their own face, and receive or share affections with others.
Top regional priority sites identified for immediate conservation action include:
- Tai-Grebo-Sapo-Cestos a moist tropical forest complex in Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia, harboring more than 8,000 chimpanzees and covering approximately 1 million hectares
- Haute Niger dry forests areas in Guinea
- Fouta Djallon dry forests areas in Guinea and Guinea Bissau
- Madingue Plateau dry forests area in Senegal, Mali and Guinea
- Mount Nimba mountainous forest in Liberia, Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire
- Gashaka-Gumti and Mambilla Plateau dry forest and mountain forest areas in the Nigeria-Cameroon cross border area
- Takamanda and Okwango mountainous forest area in the Nigeria-Cameroon cross border area.
"These regional priorities will be a crucial complement to the national priorities that each of the countries in the region will develop and implement," said Dr. Mohamed Bakarr, with the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science at Conservation International.
Additional areas, such as Outamba-Kilimi in Sierra Leone and the Ghana-Côte d'Ivoire cross border area, were also identified for their importance other than containing secure chimpanzee populations, and for requiring additional data.
The meeting was co-sponsored by the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science (CABS) and the West Africa Program at Conservation International (CI), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Great Ape Survival Project, the CI Primate Action Fund and the Foundation Step by Step. It was co-organized by CI, the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation, and Kyoto University.
Images available to journalists upon request.