Dr. Maja Gaspersic reports on her research as part of the Bandafassi Area Chimpanzee Project, which stemmed from the Fongoli Savanna Chimpanzee Project as part of a comparative database of chimpanzees living in southeastern Senegal. The project is also part of Neighbor Ape organization's objective to conserve chimpanzees in Senegal as well as providing for the welfare of people living alongside them.
The Bandafassi area project covers a wide geographical area in Senegal (>500 km²) including at least 5 chimpanzee communities in rare forest patches. Due to intense habitat degradation savanna apes are more endangered than ever. However, preliminary estimates from surveys undertaken by Souleye Ndiaye (Director of Senegal's National Parks Service) in May 2011 are encouraging and indicate the Senegalese population may number up to 500 chimpanzees. Additionally, 2 of our main study areas (Angafou & Nathia) were recognized as priority sites for chimpanzee conservation at one of the USAID/Wula Nafaa meetings on chimpanzee conservation in Senegal based on Director Ndiaye's report.
We established a surveillance system based on Janis Carter’s chimpanzee conservation projects in Guinea and further east in Senegal. Identified forest-guardians or eco- rangers monitor the ranging behavior of chimpanzees and at the same time prevent crop-raiding and attacks on domestic animals. Conflict between people and chimpanzees over the latter's predation on goats and mango fruits was partly resolved. These activities depend on continuous funding so that local residents can help protect their natural resources, and more scientific support for research projects would be beneficial as well. We continue to monitor sites at the periphery zones to better understand the relation between humans and apes in a seasonally disturbed habitat. The study area is at the border with Guinea and should be included in collaboration between neighbor countries.
The foundations for the sustainable community-based chimpanzee conservation in Bandafassi area have been laid, but funding is being sought for the long-term support of the project. Besides ecotourism as a conservation incentive I would suggest sustainable harvesting of wild resources (particularly Saba and baobab) and include the products in international fair-trade, organize workshops on bio-horticulture (eco-gardening, seed-bank) and use of traditional medicinal plants. Chimpanzees at Bandafassi live in small isolated communities along increased population of humans, who are vital for their protection. Along with the involvement of local authorities, there is a need collaboration with international agencies to ensure the project's success.
Photo of people of the village of Nathia.