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By: Kristin Abt

Recently published online in the International Journal of Primatology, an article by Humle, Colin, Laurans, and Raballand (2010) discusses the release of a group of 12 chimpanzeees into the High Niger National Park in Guinea, West Africa. Through the efforts of the Chimpanzee Conservation Center, 9 chimpanzees remain in natural habitat at the time of publication. The conservation benefits of this substantial undertaking are numerous:

  • While the park already has a viable population of chimpanzees, this effort adds reproductively mature individuals and genetic material to the endangered wild population.
  • Additionally, with over 1000 chimpanzees in sanctuaries and other facilities rather than in the wild, the need to address their long-term management is acute. Not only is the individual welfare of the released chimpanzees enhanced, this scientific study of the release process will also aid conservation practitioners in the implementation of future chimpanzee rehabilitation.
  • As the authors point out, the conservation status and role of the release area is promoted to the government and general public, which will hopefully bolster its future capacity to serve as suitable habitat for many species.

Previous reintroduction efforts have led to the adoption of an overall chimpanzee reintroduction plan that emphasizes adequate rehabilitation training for individuals and substantial monitoring following release. In order to determine an appropriate area for release, the authors cite numerous components, including habitat suitability (food, other resources, terrain, etc.), level of and proximity to human pressures, and the overall ability of chimpanzees to thrive in the absence of human involvement. Further, in order to monitor the activities of the chimpanzees, researchers used radiotracking collars on released individuals.

Chimpanzee (Photo: Kristin Abt)

The release site was chosen in part due to its strict protection as a core area within the park and its minimal roads. The demographics of the released individuals were 6 males and 6 females ranging from 8 to 20 years of age. Information included in the article details the social familiarity of the group, survival skills possessed by the individuals, and the number of years each had access to formative “bush-outings” with caretakers and expansive, naturalistic enclosures. Additionally, the researchers verified the genetic appropriateness of the subspecies (Pan troglodytes verus) and the overall health of each chimpanzee. The article also provides a 20 month timeline of events relevant to the release process including group dynamics, deaths, births, and sightings with wild chimpanzees.

Humle et al (2010) discusses the ranging patterns and habitat use of the released chimpanzees to obtain an overall picture of their behavior compared to typical wild chimpanzees in the area. Released males traveled significantly further than released females as measured by maximum mean distance travelled. They also remained significantly further from the release site than the females. Overall, the chimpanzees preferred forested areas over open space. Within the mixed forest-savanna habitat where the chimpanzees were released, the individuals remain independent of human provisioning. Additionally, two chimpanzees have been born to released females. Humle et al (2010) suggests that part of the success of the released chimpanzees could be due to the lower population densities of wild chimpanzees in the mixed habitat type along with their relatively larger ranges.

A number of agencies and professionals will ultimately contribute to the conservation efforts of a given species, as noted by the authors. This paper attempted to combine data on behavior, ecology, conservation, and wildlife management in order to approach the multi-faceted undertaking of chimpanzee rehabilitation. As with many conservation projects, communication and an interdisciplinary approach are needed to successfully achieve targeted goals.

The Chimpanzee Conservation Centre (CCC) is a member of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) that aims to promote the welfare and conservation of primates in African countries. It unites sanctuaries together to train professionals at the facilities about animal management, veterinary care, and education. PASA accepts donations at its website to continue its primate care and conservation efforts.

Reference

Humle, T., Colin, C., Laurans, M., & Raballand, E. (2010). Group release of sanctuary chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in the Haut Niger National Park, Guinea, West Africa: Ranging patterns and lessons so far. International Journal of Primatology. doi: 10.1007/s10764-010-9482-7

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