From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published May 3, 2012 12:41 PM

Chimpanzees or Humans

Chimpanzees or people? Can they survive together? They are a sort of close relative. Expecting wild animals such as chimpanzees to thrive in increasingly fragmented habitats alongside a growing human population may be unrealistic, say scientists. But exactly how people should live together long-term in shared landscapes remains largely unresolved. Chimpanzees are members of the Hominidae family, along with gorillas, humans, and orangutans. Chimpanzees split from the human branch of the family about 4 to 6 million years ago. The two chimpanzee species are the closest living relatives to humans, all being members of the Hominini tribe. The two Pan species split off only about one million years ago. These issues do come up in some rural regions of Africa.

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UK researchers surveyed 134 people in 12 villages across the Hoima District of Uganda to understand how they felt about sharing the region with chimps. The landscape is a mosaic of farmland and unprotected forest fragments.

McLennan and his colleague Dr Catherine Hill, also from Oxford Brookes University, found that relations between farmers and chimpanzees have deteriorated in recent years. In particular, since farmers have burned, cleared and logged unprotected forests in Uganda, this has forced local chimpanzees into conflict with farmers and local residents.

Residents say chimps are now threatening people of all ages, going into villages to look for food, and raiding crops. These include crops like sugarcane, cocoa and banana, on which local livelihoods often depend.

A large majority of interviewees — 86 per cent — said they thought chimpanzee numbers have increased in recent years. But the authors point out that this belief could simply reflect their growing visibility in an increasingly fragmented and deforested landscape.

Nearly three-quarters of the residents interviewed said they think chimps are dangerous, and 73 per cent said they are afraid of them. Women were much more likely than men to say chimps are dangerous.

"Where potentially dangerous wildlife no longer have sufficient habitat, and are forced into close proximity and competition with people, we may ask whether it is appropriate to promote coexistence," write the researchers in their report, published in Journal for Nature Conservation.

Yet inaction is likely to put even greater pressure on the endangered chimp. Scientists estimate there are just 170,000 to 300,000 individuals left in the forests and savannahs of tropical Africa.

"Most chimps outside protected areas will disappear in the next decade, which is mirrored across Africa. They won't survive unless urgent steps are taken to address the degradation and conversion of their habitats," says McLennan.

From the villagers' perspective, if chimps are to co-exist peacefully with people in places where forest is peppered with farmland, three key conditions may have to be met: chimps shouldn't eat crops on which livelihoods depend, like maize and cassava; they must stay inside forests and not bother people; and people will need to make money from the apes through initiatives like ecotourism.

"There are real problems with all of these conditions," says McLennan.

"Chimps raid maize and cassava in other areas of Africa, so those that don't eat these crops in Uganda could easily turn to them. Converting chimp habitat to farmland will inevitably cause chimps to look for food in that farmland. And promoting eco-tourism where apes live close to people doesn't tend to work, because wild animals get habituated to people, which can exacerbate attacks on the local residents," he adds.

Most of the chimpanzee’s diet is made up of fruit. It prefers fruit above all other food items and will even eat them when they are not abundant. It will also eat leaves and leaf buds. Seeds, blossoms, stems, pith, bark and resin make up the rest of its diet. While the common chimpanzee is mostly herbivorous, it does eat honey, soil, insects, birds and their eggs and small to medium-sized mammals, including other primates.

But conserving chimps in human-dominated landscapes increasingly demands that rural farmers tolerate a big, potentially dangerous mammal which may threaten their livelihoods, and which they may fear.

For further information see Wild Animals

Chimpanzee image via Wikipedia

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