Endangered chimpanzees discovered in the DRC with help of camera traps

On September 13th scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) confirmed the presence of Common Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in the Yangambi Biosphere Reserve’s landscape, an area of about 750 square kilometers which includes the Reserve and its surroundings, in northern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The news comes three weeks after the installation of camera traps in the area, a measure that aims to increase researchers’ understanding of the presence and trends of fauna in the area and to inform conservation efforts.

While members of the communities around the reserve had long claimed to have spotted chimpanzees and other ungulates in the area, until now they were not observed in the course of a rigorous assessment. “Local hunters had told us that chimpanzees and other key mammal species were still present in the reserve, but this is the first attempt to conduct a mammal survey in Yangambi”, says Jonas Muhindo, part of the research team. “This finding confirms the importance of local ecological knowledge. Local communities can provide very valuable information on mammal persistence, distribution and trends. Now this survey can allow us to share that knowledge with the world and propose more informed management solutions,” he adds.

CIFOR’s team installing camera traps in the Yangambi Biosphere Reserve’s landscape. Photo: Axel Fassio/CIFOR

The animal population in the reserve has sharply decreased in the last decades due to prolonged conflict in DRC, as well as its cascading social and economic effects, which have increased wildlife threats such as hunting for human consumption, and the destruction of habitats from logging.

This research is part of the project “Formation, Recherche, Environnement dans la Tshopo” (FORETS), funded by the European Union and coordinated by CIFOR. FORETS is working with the communities in the Yangambi landscape to develop income-generating activities and to diversify the sources of nutritious food. Prevalence of food insecurity in the region makes it crucial to find alternative livelihoods to improve the living conditions of people and at the same time preserve the exceptional biodiversity of the region.

Scientists are still analyzing the footage captured by the camera traps. Photo: CIFOR

In addition to chimpanzees, CIFOR scientists have also spotted other mammal species such as red river hogs (Potamochoerus porcus), blue duikers (Philantomba monticola) and red duikers (Cephalophus dorsalis and Cephalophus nigrifrons). Other discoveries are expected in the upcoming weeks, as the team on the ground led by Dr Nathalie Vanvliet is still analyzing thousands of images captured by the camera traps, and the surveillance mission will continue for another 20 days.