Chimpanzees, critically endangered in West Africa, share up to 98% of our DNA. They are highly intelligent, can learn sign language, use tools; and are thought to feel complex emotions like we do. It is very unfortunate that now – although they once numbered in the millions – their populations have been reduced to only about 250,000 in the wild. Western chimpanzee numbers, in particular, have declined by approximately 80%, in less than 50 years. Also, the western chimpanzee is thought to be nearing extinction in Benin, Gambia, Burkina Faso, and Togo.
Conservationist Nancy Merrick, who studied chimpanzees at the Gombe Stream Research Centre, in Tanzania; showed that chimps can experience grief, while documenting a teenage monkey. He laid down for days, at the spot where his mother had died, refusing to move or eat.
Deforestation, most pronounced in West Africa, has left chimpanzee populations reduced to small, fragmented, and isolated groups. Habitat division for one, is caused by paved and dirt roads, which chimps avoid crossing. The logging, done before farmland is developed, destroys the ape’s food sources, forcing them to steal crops.
Biological Anthropologist Stacy Lindshield, from Purdue University, in Indiana, has studied western chimpanzees in Senegal, Africa, and has noted that gold and iron ore deposit developments are located in the apes’ territories.
Although uncommon in the Senegal area, many Africans eat what is termed bush meat. Hunters — not choosy about which wild animals they kill — provide chimpanzee meat for humans, that it is found in local markets. Human diseases have been known to be transmitted to chimpanzees, and bushmeat has also resulted in humans catching new diseases from them. Other bushmeats like crocodiles, bats, lizards, and porcupines are also eaten by man.
Poaching, and selling baby monkeys, is also a great threat to chimpanzees. To catch one baby, it is thought about nine adults, who are trying to protect the baby, are killed first.
DIET AND BEHAVIOUR
Chimpanzees are omnivorous. Their primary diet is fruit, seeds, honey, and eggs; and there are dozens of wild plants that they enjoy. Chimps also hunt small animals, sometimes with spears made from trees, use branches to get to high protein insects, and have been seen fishing for algae with sticks. They also use leaves to soak up water to drink. Known to be cannibalistic, groups of chimps hunt baboons and other monkeys. Humans need to know to be careful around chimpanzees, who can sometimes successfully defend themselves.
Chimpanzees can live to be 60 years old and are sexually mature at ten or twelve years. Gestation lasts for seven to nine months, and babies are not weaned until they are about four years old. Thus, female chimps, who usually give birth to, and raise, only one baby at a time, produce offspring every five years. For the first several months, babies are carried on their mothers’ backs.
Adult chimps grow to approximately two meters (or 5 ft) tall and weigh up to 150 lbs (or 70 kgs). While mostly covered with black hair; chimpanzees’ faces, ears, fingers, and toes are bare. They do not have tails, have opposable thumbs, and long arms.
The most famous chimp defender and naturalist, of course, is Dr. Jane Goodall, who has studied chimpanzees since 1960. She is responsible for many conservation projects and originally discovered that chimpanzees do not just eat insects, fruits, and berries, but also other animals. She showed that they can make tools, have group cultures, make war, and develop hierarchies, that, somewhat resemble our own.
The Jane Goodall Institute, JGI, established in 1977, supports research in Gombe Stream Research Centre. Goodall is a board member of the Floridian Save the Chimps Sanctuary in Fort Pierce and founded the Roots & Shoots education program. Now in over 100 countries.
The far-reaching Lake Tanganyika Catchment program houses a sanctuary for orphaned chimps, educates locals on agricultural sustainability, protects chimpanzees from deforestation, plants trees in degraded chimp habitat, and offers college tuition scholarships. She does not shy away from controversial animal issues, and her scientifically-valuable research notes, are housed in Duke University.
While there is thought to be a stable chimp population in the Gashaka-Gumti National Park in Nigeria, and the Niokolo-Koba National Park, in Senegal, is proving to be effective in protecting endangered animals like the Western chimpanzee, commercial wild bushmeat harvesting is a real problem.
The World Wildlife Foundation, or WWF, is trying to address this through their Great Ape Programme. They have boots on the ground in Tai National Park in the Ivory Coast, and the Virunga ecosystem in Tongo. They also support the Cameroon governments’ Campo Ma’an National Park and its ecotourism project, and the newly created Minkebe Conservation Project in Gabon; as well as TRIDOM, the Odzala-Minkebe-Dja Trinational border complex of protected areas in Cameroon, the Congo, and Gabon. The African Wildlife Foundation built the Lupani School in the Sekute community in Zambia, in order to teach wildlife and agricultural practices.
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