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Projet Grands Singes, Cameroon: Community based conservation of great apes in non-protected areas of Cameroon (PGS)

The threats faced by populations of great apes vary across their range, but mainly comprise hunting, forest loss and fragmentation and disease epidemics. Populations of large bodied and slow reproducing species, like chimpanzees and gorillas, do not easily recover from even low hunting pressures, and rates of offtake in many cases dramatically exceed any sustainable limit. With the encroachment of humans more and more into ape habitats and the reduction of remaining forests through agriculture and logging, existing populations experience greater conflicts with people, an increased chance of virus transmission and more intense hunting pressures. Climate change is likely to compound each of the existing threats to the survival of apes, by causing vegetation shifts and reducing the suitability of habitats, and increasing the occurrence of infectious diseases, for example. People living in ape habitats are generally poverty-stricken, living hand-to-mouth below the poverty line, with few of their basic needs being met.
Cameroon is a large country, with approximately 200 000 km2 of great ape habitat in the form of tropical rainforest; only 23% of which falls into protected areas such as national parks and reserves – many of the country’s great apes therefore have little official protection. The Dja Biosphere Reserve in the southeast of the country is an area of exceptional conservation priority for great apes: an area of great size and biodiversity and still harbouring healthy populations of great apes. Animals live in and around protected areas, with ranges and territories often spanning into and beyond these more disturbed buffer zones. As part of the range-wide fight to preserve wild populations of great apes, active protection of populations living in buffer zones of parks and reserves is crucial to species’ survival. In the northern buffer zone of the Dja Reserve, forest resources are heavily used by local people and logging companies alike. Hunting for bushmeat is a traditional activity, yet increased commercialisation of the bushmeat trade as a result of accessibility of firearms, the carving up of forests by logging, agriculture and human population growth and a swelling demand from towns and cities, is leading to the depletion of populations and species at local, regional and national levels.

To address these issues, the CRC runs Projet Grands Singes (PGS) in this area. The target is to promote tropical conservation and decelerate the rate of decline of great apes through a community-based conservation and development approach. This approach respects the economic requirements of rural people, through mutually-interdependent conservation and development objectives (sustainable hunting management, the provision of incentives in conservation, environmental education, etc). It is arguably impossible to study endangered species without concerning yourself with their conservation, and on the flipside, informed conservation efforts require science-based evidence and support, strengthening the intricate link between research and conservation. In a further step, PGS uses scientific research as a conservation tool to forge a rare and important direct link between wildlife conservation and benefits for the local communities: regular employment of local people in research activities reinforces the value of living wildlife and intact forests to the community.

PGS seeks to respond to the urgent need for population estimates, surveys and monitoring of western lowland gorillas and chimpanzees across the entirety of their range—including within surrounding and connecting matrices—to help improve and devise ape conservation actions, prevent population isolation and loss of genetic variation, and to effectively manage PAs. Through long-term, hypothesis-driven, applied- conservation research in situ, PGS staff and students investigate great ape ecology, diet and behaviour; forest structure and use by primates, the impacts of human activity on great apes, phenology, botany and food availability of the rain forest habitats; and the changing status of great apes in the site and elsewhere, for improved understanding and species conservation in the long term.
Datum:1 jan 2002  →  Heden