The extinction of the great apes -- gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos(pygmy chimpanzees) and orangutans -- is imminent if strictconservation practices are not implemented in the immediate future.Once these practices have been initially implemented, ape populationsmust be monitored to evaluate their success and to create incentivesfor effective protection. Dr. Nadine Laporte, an assistant scientistwith the Woods Hole Research Center, is involved in internationalinitiatives working to assess and protect these animals and theirhabitats.
Conservation efforts to save the great apes must identify,prioritize, and optimize actions and investments to protect thesediminishing populations. According to Laporte, "In West Africa, most ofthe dense humid forest has been converted to agriculture, causing afragmentation of chimpanzee habitat. The same is true in Uganda, where25 percent of the country's chimpanzee population is found in only oneplace, Kibale National Park. Only two small pockets of mountain gorillahabitat remain in vast areas converted for agriculture --the VirungaConservation area at the tri-national border of the Democratic Republicof Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda, and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest inUganda. The situation is no better in Southeast Asia, where industriallogging followed by industrial palm plantations has destroyed extensivetrack of orangutan habitat."
Most recently, Laporte and her Center colleagues, incollaboration with the Harvard Peabody Museum and the Max PlankInstitute, are supporting The Great Apes Survival Project (GRASP) byinitiating a website containing a preliminary list of priority apepopulations and sites. To view the site, visit http://whrc.org/africa/prioritypops/index.htm.
The GRASP Partnership was launched under United Nations auspicesin 2001 to save the world's remaining great ape population. GRASP aimsto establish strategies for all regions of Africa and Asia where apessurvive.
Based on GRASP preliminary findings, Africa has more than 70percent of the priority Great Ape populations. It is not surprisingthat 51 percent of those are found in Central Africa, says Laporte, aslarge tracks of forest habitat are still untouched by agriculture orlogging. She adds, "The situation is changing fast, and we need to putin place operational forest monitoring systems in each of the GreatApes range countries."
For the first GRASP council meeting in the Democratic Republicof Congo, held in early September, the Woods Hole Research Centerdeveloped web pages to provide access to a preliminary list of theseimportant ape populations to the attending country delegates, policymakers and scientists. Sub-species population maps and associatedtables can be downloaded as well as a series of reports related to theGRASP effort. Laporte says, "The ape population maps and tables areconsidered a work in progress. They can be downloaded, updated, andimproved by apes experts around the world and shared with GRASP StateDelegates and the general public".
Laporte's efforts include other monitoring initiatives. In2001, she developed a Forest Monitoring System "INFORMS" for centralAfrica, with support from NASA and USAID. INFORMS is based on theintegration of high resolution imagery with field information on foreststructure, composition and associated fauna in a geographic informationsystem to improve the management of these forests and their fauna;users helped designing and ultimately run the system at local andnational level.
Also, in collaboration with conservation organizations andAfrican institutions, Laporte created a series of projects designed totrack land-use and landcover changes in the forests of the Congo Basinand the Albertine Rift. The goal of these initiatives is to improveoperational monitoring of wildlife habitat in Africa and to bring theresults of these assessments to the attention of governmentalpolicymakers in the region to promote conservation.
Laporte estimates that the rate of logging assessed throughlogging road construction increased from an average of 150 km per yearbetween the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s to an average of over 650 kmper year since 2000. This equates to an eleven-fold increase in thelast 25 years. Since logging is often associated with increased huntingpressure and poaching, the monitoring of the logging wave in CentralAfrica is important information for wildlife conservation. By knowingwhere new logging fronts are, park managers can prevent the negativeimpact of illegal hunting. In the coming months, and in addition to theGRASP priority maps, Laporte intends to pursue additional applicationsof satellite imagery, specifically by making maps of the habitats toidentify potential threats from logging, mining and deforestation. Shebelieves that satellite imagery information has great potential forconservation applications. Laporte says, "Satellite imagery can help usto better predict population ranges and threats, improving theprotection of the Great Apes and measure progress done by each countryto conserve Great Apes habitat." In addition, the Woods Hole ResearchCenter will co-chair a symposium -- "Remote Sensing Tools for Great ApeResearch and Conservation: Current Applications and Future Needs" --with the Jane Goodall Institute in June 2006 at the InternationalPrimatological Society in Uganda.
Dr. Laporte is a biologist whose research centers on theapplications of satellite imagery to tropical forest ecosystems,including vegetation mapping, land-use change, and deforestation causesand consequences. She has been involved in numerous environmentalprojects in Central Africa over the past ten years, working within-country scientists, foresters, and international conservationorganizations to develop integrated forest monitoring systems andpromote forest conservation. She received her doctorate in tropicalbiogeography from l'Université Paul Sabatier in Toulouse, France. Formore information on Laporte's work, please visit: http://www.whrc.org/AFRICA/index.htm
The Woods Hole Research Center is dedicated to science, education,and public policy for a habitable Earth, seeking to conserve andsustain the planet's vegetation, soils, water, and climate byclarifying and communicating their interacting functions in support ofhuman well-being and by promoting practical approaches to theirmanagement in the human interest. The Center has projects "on theground" in the Amazon, the Arctic, Africa, Russia, Alaska, Canada, NewEngland, and the Mid-Atlantic -- as well as integrative efforts atcontinental to global scale -- working in collaboration with a widevariety of partners ranging from local NGOs, research centers, andenterprises to national governments and the United Nations.
This work was funded by a grant from UNEP to support the work of the GRASP Scientific Commission.
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