Chimpanzees are an endangered species and are found in only 21 countries in equatorial Africa. There are four subspecies of chimpanzee, and each subspecies lives in a different area. There are an estimated 150,000 chimpanzees remaining in Africa. All of the factors contributing to the endangerment of chimpanzees can be attributed to humans:
One of the most important factors contributing to the decline of chimpanzees is habitat loss. Since 1960, chimpanzee populations have declined by half. The loss of chimpanzee habitats in Africa is primarily related to logging, mining, and oil drilling.
Logging often removes important food trees like figs. Chimpanzees may also be losing a variety of trees that they use to self-medicate to treat a variety of ailments. Logging also increases the incidence of fire, and creates additional roads and access points for hunters. Logging may also split up chimpanzee territories and fragment populations if part of the group is unwilling to cross a road.
Bushmeat & Hunting
Chimpanzees are hunted for several reasons. They may be eaten by locals or exported as bushmeat. Adult chimpanzees are killed in order to secure the infants for export as pets – chimpanzee infants are dependent on their mothers for long periods and often nurse until they are five years old; so, hunters must kill the mother to get to the infant. Chimpanzees may also be hunted when they are raiding the crops of farmers and are therefore seen as pests. Another indirect result of opening areas up to hunting is that even if the hunters are hunting smaller game, the chimpanzees often end up being caught in snares that cause permanent handicaps and possibly death through infection. In one area in Uganda, over 25% percent of the chimpanzees have been injured or caught in snares.
In many African countries mining is also contributing to habitat loss. Mining can cause dramatic changes in the environment due to erosion, water pollution, and the resultant deterioration of agriculture in the area. In addition, the local population increases due to the influx of mine workers which leads to even further habitat encroachment as the newcomers need food, water, and firewood. African countries contain multiple materials that might be mined including gold, bauxite, cement, diamonds, iron, salt, graphite, limestone, manganese, nickel and uranium. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) mining for coltan, a component for cell phones and other electronics, is increasing as our demands for the newest technologies increase. If you have an unused cell phone that needs to be recycled, please bring it or mail it to Chimp Haven to be recycled.
Infectious diseases are some of the biggest killers of chimpanzees. In past years, polio has killed or maimed numerous chimpanzees at Gombe (Jane Goodall’s research station in Tanzania, Africa), and more recently, Ebola and respiratory viruses have taken the lives of many other chimpanzees. Because chimpanzees share over 90% of their genetic material with humans and they are our closest living relative, they are also very susceptible to many of our diseases. Tourism, increased access, and population growth all mean that people are coming into contact with chimpanzees on a more frequent basis than ever before. Chimpanzees, who often travel on the ground may be more likely to encounter parasites left by human visitors to their habitats.
Chimpanzees are protected in almost all African countries where they reside, both by local and international laws. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species is an international agreement between governments that ensures that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. CITES legally binds the nations that have signed the agreement, although it does not take the place of existing national laws. By signing CITES, a country limits the import and export of these species.
Many chimpanzees are found in national parks, but have limited distribution outside those parks. There are efforts in some areas to link segregated populations to one another through the use of corridors. In Bossou, New Guinea there are efforts underway to plant trees to create a forest corridor for the chimps that would link two separate populations of currently segregated chimpanzees. In some areas of Africa, tourism has been very successful in bringing in money to the local area and encouraging conservation of the area. Uganda and Tanzania both have had success in promoting ecotourism with a visit to observe chimpanzees as the main appeal. In Uganda, gorillas and chimpanzees attract on average 20,000 visitors per year. Permits to visit gorillas (at US$500 per visit) and chimpanzees (at US$ 70) brought in US$ 4.7 million dollars in the year 2007 alone.
Efforts to reintroduce chimpanzees into the wild have met with limited success in the past, although there are some recent successes to celebrate. Project HELP has now reintroduced 37 chimpanzees in the last 15 years. At the current time, 21 of the chimpanzees are still observed.
All of the factors contributing to the decline of chimpanzees build upon each other and ultimately create a domino effect. Dealing with one factor alone will not be enough to conserve the species. We can all do our part to help the chimpanzees in a variety of ways from simple to more complex. Here are some ways that we can all help:
- Support international and national laws governing endangered species.
- Support sustainable ecotourism in range countries.
- Recycle your cell phones, computers and other electronics.
- Be cognizant of what you leave when you travel to areas where primates live. Be respectful of any rules regarding health issues.
- Purchase sustainably logged wood products if you must purchase wood.
- Reuse, reduce, and re-cycle whenever you can.
- Support organizations working with local communities in countries with chimpanzees as well as supporting the people themselves.
- Donate to an African Sanctuary – choose a PASA (Pan-African Sanctuary Alliance) sanctuary to be assured of high standards.
- Read, learn, and share what you know about chimpanzees.
- Pay attention to your use of resources and rethink diamond and gold purchases.