Department of Primatology
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6
phone.: +49 (341) 3550 - 200
fax: +49 (341) 3550 - 299
Loango Ape Project
Conducted by Christophe Boesch and Martha Robbins
The Loango Ape Project was started in January 2005. The overall goals of this project are to habituate chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) and western gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) in Loango National Park, Gabon to (i) understand their ecology, behavior, culture, demography, population dynamics, and health status and (ii) to provide ape viewing for ecotourists. Currently, there is only one ongoing study of central African chimpanzees and only a few long term studies of western lowland gorillas, so we know relatively little about them compared to their better studied cousins in eastern Africa. Loango National Park is an ideal location to conduct this project because of its unique ecosystem; it contains a mosaic of seashore, coastal forest, lagoon, savannah, swamps, secondary forest, and primary forest. It is ecologically distinctive from other sites where similar research has been conducted and therefore will provide us with new data on variability in diet, social behavior, culture, and population dynamics exhibited by both chimpanzees and gorillas. A main goal of the project is to study the interactions of the two ape species in sympatry, which currently is not well known.
On a short-term basis, as we habituate the animals to human observers, we are studying:
- the feeding ecology of the gorillas and chimpanzees through analysis of fecal samples, remains left by the apes following feeding, and by measuring food availability.
- the impact the habituation process has on the apes by examining their behavioural responses to observers.
- use non-invasive methods including genetics and camera traps to determine the abundance and social structure of the apes in the study area.
- monitor the health of the apes by investigating pathogens.
This project is being conducted in collaboration with Operation Loango (a coalition between the Conseil National des Parcs Nationaux du Gabon – CNPN-, the Société pour la Conservation et le Development – SCD- and the Wildlife Conservation Society – WCS) (http://www.africas-eden.com). Through the concept of ‘tourism pays for conservation', Operation Loango is developing ecotourism and conservation in and around Loango National Park. With this collaboration we hope to be able to combine research, conservation, and ecotourism. Developing a relatively accessible site where tourists will be able to view both gorillas and chimpanzees in their natural environments will assist in promoting Gabonese national parks as well as conservation activities.