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Chimpanzees surviving in a fragmented high-altitude forest landscape of the Congolese Albertine Rift
Journal Contribution - Journal Article
Abstract This paper documents a community of eastern chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii Giglioli, 1872) inhabiting three relict forest fragments situated on the Lake Albert escarpment, down the Ituri highlands, of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The area explored had a combined forested surface of ±18.15 km2 in 2017, shrinking by 1.2% per year between 2010 and 2015. Between 2015 and 2017, we found 160 chimpanzee nests along 37.6 km of pilot walks, some up to 2,000 m altitude. Another 123 nests logged along 6.7 km transects led to an estimate of chimpanzee density of 4.62 weaned individuals per square kilometer of forest habitat. Camera-trap images and direct observations revealed that this community is comprised of a minimum of 42 weaned individuals, which translates into an estimated density of 2.3 chimpanzees per square kilometer. The increasing rate of forest degradation threatens to erode the cultural and genetic diversity of nonhuman primates in eastern DRC; the local people however exhibit willingness to establish a community managed reserve. We hope that this report will lead to the recognition of this site as a Chimpanzee Conservation Unit, facilitating further research in these “Relict Altitude Forests Fragments of the Albert Lake Escarpment” (or RAFALE landscape) and the Ituri highlands where other undocumented chimpanzee communities occur.
Keywords:Albertine Rift, behavior, conservation, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ituri, Mbudha community, Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii