Poachers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) threaten the existence of the largest remaining continuous population of chimpanzees in the world. This conclusion is drawn by Cleve Hicks, based on observations made during his 2007-2008 survey of towns, villages and forests in the Buta-Aketi region of the country.
Hicks, a researcher at the University of Amsterdam (UvA), describes the plight of the apes and other forest creatures in a new e-book to be released this week. Together with colleagues, Hicks was able to take in five orphaned chimpanzees who will soon be sent to a sanctuary in eastern Congo.
During his previous one and a half year study near the town of Bili, the DRC between 2004-2007, Cleve Hicks, who works for the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) of the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, did not observe a single chimpanzee orphan or carcass in the area, despite the fact that chimpanzees were numerous in the forests there. When Bili was overrun with gold miners in june 2007, Hicks conducted a 13 month survey of large mammals about 200 km of Bili, in the Buta Aketi region.
He found that the chimpazees in this region had the same culture (ground-nesting, snail-smashing, ant-dipping) as the bili apes, and, as at Bili, were found even within 15 km of all major population centers surveyed. He concludes that the chimpanzees of northern DRC have not yet become fragmented into scattered populations by human activities.
However, during this most recent study period, Hicks and his staff witnessed 34 chimpanzee orphans and 31 carcasses for sale in the Buta-Aketi-Bambesa area. In addition, the team documented 10 okapi skins, 9 leopard skins, the parts of 13 elephants and hundreds of monkey orphans and carcasses. Locals have told Hicks that up to a few years ago there was very little poaching (except for elephants) in the area, and that it is the mining of diamonds and gold that has lead to the current slaughter of wildlife. Sadly, there is evidence that the bushmeat trade is spreading rapidly into the Bili and Rubi-Tele protected areas, both of which have been recently invaded by illegal miners. Since Hicks left in november 2008, his colleagues Laura Darby and Adam Singh have observed another seven chimpanzee orphans and 3 carcasses.
Together with Darby and Singh, Hicks was able to take in five chimpanzee bushmeat orphans who will soon find a home in a licensed sanctuary in the DRC. In addition, the Wasmoeth Wildlife foundation is now building a chimpanzee sanctuary called Boyoma in Kisangani. However, according to Hicks this does not change the fact that if something is not done now, we will soon lose one of the largest remaining tracts of untouched wilderness on the planet, and with it will go the apes, elephants, okapis and traditional human societies that depend upon its existence.
Please see Hicks' new ebook describing the crisis, which can be viewed at http://www.wasmoethwildlife.org.
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