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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

4,000 chimps in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone endangered chimp numbers double: survey

Sierra Leone has 4,000 endangered west African chimpanzees, twice the number previously thought according to results of a national survey released in the capital Freetown on Tuesday.

Terry Brncic, who led the field research for the study carried out by the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, told journalists the last survey conducted in 1980 had estimated the chimp population to be between 1,500 and 2,500.

"The current survey has determined that almost half of these chimps are surviving in highly threatened and marginal habitats outside of the country's protected forest reserves," she said.

"These results confirm that Sierra Leone still hosts a significant population of the endangered Western Chimpanzee, making the country the second after Guinea" in terms of chimp populations.

The 230,000 US dollar survey, carried out between January 2009 and May 2010, is the first nationwide study ever taken in the west African nation concerning the most endangered of Africa's four chimpanzee subspecies.

While these results provide encouraging news the challenges to the long-term survival of these chimpanzees are many.

"With the country's push to develop and eliminate poverty, habitat is being rapidly lost to logging, mining and farming, pushing chimps into direct conflict with communities as they strive for survival," Brncic said.

Official Press Release from the Tacugama website:
Visitors to Tacugama have often asked how many wild chimpanzees there are in Sierra Leone and until recently the honest answer was that nobody knew. The last formal estimate was made in 1981 by Teleki and Baldwin who concluded that around 2,000 wild chimpanzees remained in the wild, predominantly in protected forest reserves.

In the fifteen years that Tacugama has been operating we have continued to receive and rehabilitate orphaned chimpanzees from across the country. Almost 30 years since that estimate was made It became increasingly urgent to determine a more accurate number and to confirm where chimpanzees could be found in the wild. We needed to know the real situation so that more effective protection measures could be implemented and the flow of orphans to the sanctuary could be stemmed.

With support from PASA (Pan African Sanctuary Alliance in April 2008 we prepared a proposal for the census, gained approval from the Government of Sierra Leone and raised enough funds to start the initial phases of the project in October 2008. The census fieldwork concluded in May 2010 and preliminary results were released on 1 June 2010. The final report will be available at the end of July 2010.

The project has provided much valuable information on the state of habitat, impact of human encroachment and other large mammal species as well as the distribution and abundance of wild chimpanzees in Sierra Leone. The groundbreaking approach has resulted in a systematic and extensive survey.

The preliminary results show that Sierra Leone is home to around 4,000 chimpanzees, double previous estimates. This exciting news gives new hope for the survival of the endangered Western Chimpanzee Pan troglodytes verus but also reveals that there are many threats to the remaining chimps.

Visit the Tacugama website for LOTS more info

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