Chimp Haven Gets an Upgrade
February 16, 2012
With its miles and miles of dense swamp forest, Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo has long been a wildlife haven. It’s home to an unusual primate population: so-called “naïve” chimpanzees, who have so little exposure to humans that they investigate the conservationists who study them, instead of running away.
These curious chimps got a recent boost when Congo formally expanded Nouabalé-Ndoki to protect them. Known as the Goualougo Triangle, the 100-plus square-mile forest and its unique great ape population was first reported in 1989 by WCS conservationists. The chimps of Goualougo have also been featured in National Geographic.
The Republic of Congo committed to expanding the park and protecting the Goualougo in 2001. The protected area has grown from 1,492 square miles to 1,636 square miles, an increase of more than 8 percent. With the region’s apes facing increasing pressure from hunting, habitat loss, and the potential outbreak of devastating diseases such as Ebola, the protection of this area will help guarantee their survival.
“We commend the Republic of Congo for finalizing this critical process to extend the borders of Nouabalé-Ndoki to include the Goualougo Triangle, one of the great wonders of Africa,” said WCS President and CEO Steve Sanderson. “In a world of human use, this extraordinary forest is a reminder of Eden, an untouched gem teeming with chimpanzees, gorillas, and forest elephants. It is the definition of wild nature and must be protected.”
Following the discovery of the Goualougo Triangle and concerned about growing poaching pressures in surrounding areas, the government of Congo entered into an integrated partnership with WCS and Congolais Industrielle des Bois (CIB), a private logging company. The partnership implemented an effective buffer zone program in the timber concessions surrounding Nouabalé-Ndoki Park while protecting the pristine forest.
Subsequent studies of the “naïve” chimps by WCS conservationists Dave Morgan of the Lincoln Park Zoo and Crickette Sanz of Washington University revealed that these apes are also great innovators. Rather than employing a single tool for collecting termites from insect nests, the chimps of Goualougo use two distinct types of tools: a short stick to perforate the nest and a long “probe” to extract the tasty insects. This tool specialization discovery was the first of its kind in wild chimpanzee populations.
Chimpanzee conservation in the Republic of Congo has been supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Great Ape Conservation Fund and Wildlife Without Borders-Africa Program. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has also provided support.
To draw attention to the plight of the greater Congo Basin rainforest, WCS’s Bronx Zoo opened the Congo Gorilla Forest exhibit in 1999. Since then, it’s raised millions of dollars from its admission fee for WCS conservation work in Central Africa. CIB and the Government of Congo first agreed to protect the Goualougo Triangle at a press conference held at the Congo Gorilla Forest in 2001.