We stand on the threshold of a future without chimpanzees in the wild. The IUCN/World Conservation Union Red List of Threatened Species says each of the species of African great apes – chimpanzees, gorillas, and bonobos – as endangered. African apes are largely confined to the relatively intact forests of Equatorial Africa as their last remaining stronghold. Chimpanzees are likely extinct in 4 of their 25 range countries (Gambia, Burkina Faso, Togo and Benin). Where they numbered perhaps 1 million at the turn of the 20th century, today it’s estimated there are 172,000-300,000 chimpanzees remaining in the wild.
Click here to see a video about the biggest threats to chimpanzees today.
The Human Factor
The threats to great apes in the natural world are many. Habitat loss is a result of conversion of land for agriculture and competition for limited natural resources such as firewood, as well as commercial logging and mining, often in the heart of once pristine forest. The commercial bushmeat and illegal exotic pet trades give poachers incentives to kill even nursing mothers. Infectious diseases such as Ebola Fever, to which great apes are inherently more vulnerable as their numbers decline, may become as serious a threat as we have seen. Armed conflict often leads to environmental destruction and species decline as soldiers move through the forest or thousands of people are forced to relocate. And there are exacerbating factors – lack of awareness and information about great apes and the laws in place to protect them, and weak enforcement where laws do exist. Nor is the general public aware of the potential economic benefits of protecting great apes.
All of these problems have deep roots, including human population growth, the staggering scale of poverty and disease, lack of economic opportunity, political indifference and corruption, conflict, and scant community involvement in managing natural resources. To begin to make a difference in the face of such fundamental challenges requires a holistic, multi-pronged response.
Chimpanzees live mainly in the African rain forests, in what used to be the equatorial forest “belt.” They can also be found in secondary regrowth forests, open woodlands, bamboo forests, swamp forests, and even open savanna where there are some forested areas. In savanna areas, they rarely venture far into the savanna except to move from one forest patch to the next. Humans have been been causing habitat loss in the main chimpanzee range by converting land for agriculture and competing for limited natural resources such as firewood, as well as through commercial logging and mining, often in the heart of once pristine forest.
For more information about how deforestation is affecting the chimpanzee click here.
A demand for bushmeat encourages poachers to kill chimpanzee mothers is coupled with a demand for chimpanzee infants in the illegal exotic pet and entertainment trade encourages poachers to seize the orphaned infants. Often, those who do not hunt for bushmeat still kill the mother to seize the infant. Due to the facts that humans and apes transfer many diseases to one another, and that the cruelty of the illegal market for trading apes, for every infant that survives its first year in its new human home or business, approximately eight other infants died in transit.
For more information about how bushmeat is affecting the population of wild chimpanzees click here.