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Loango Chimpanzee Project

Directed by Tobias Deschner

Loango National Park

Loango National Park is unique with its mosaic of habitat types which vary from marine, coastal lagoons, mangrove swamps, coastal forest, secondary and primary forest to open savannah. It is ecologically distinctive from other sites where long term research on chimpanzees has been conducted and therefore will provide us with new aspects on variability in chimpanzee diet, social behavior, culture, and population dynamics. 

Background of the Project

The initial project began in 2005 as the ‘Loango Ape Project’, which combined both research on chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) and western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) in Loango National Park. The two projects are now managed separately since 2015 when the funding of the Gorilla project was handed over to the ‘Agence National des Parc Nationaux’ (ANPN). The Loango Gorilla Project  is now run by the ANPN whilst the Loango Chimpanzee Project (LCP) is managed by The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in collaboration with the ANPN.

Current Fieldwork at the Loango Chimpanzee Project

Within the first years of the project research was focused on population genetics, habitat use and feeding competition between chimpanzees, gorillas, and elephants as well as exploitation of underground bee nests by chimpanzees. Therefore data collection focused mainly on remote video camera trapping as well as fecal sample collection and phenology. Since 2013, our key focus at LCP has shifted to the habituation the Rekambo chimpanzee community. This community was first identified in 2006 and now consists of an estimated 60+ individuals within a study area of around 45 square km2. Fieldwork involves full day forest walks in an attempt to locate and follow members of the Rekambo community. At present around 10 individuals of the community are habituated enough to be followed for longer periods of time (6-10 hours). A camera trapping program has also been used for identification purposes in order to learn more about the composition of the Rekambo community.

In addition to our habituation efforts we also collect data on:

  • the feeding ecology of the chimpanzees through analysis of fecal samples, feeding remains left by the chimpanzees, and a phenology study composed of 75+ species
  • the progress of habituation by monitoring chimpanzee behavioral responses to observer presence
  • genetic, hormonal and pathogen analysis from non-invasive sampling of feces
  • camera trapping for biomonitoring, tool-use studies and chimpanzee identification within and around the core study area

Genetics

Between 2005 and 2008 Chimpanzee fecal samples were collected opportunistically for analyses in a 132 km2 area of Loango National Park. Genotyping the non-invasively collected fecal samples presented valuable insights into general population dynamics as well as the structure of the Rekambo community. From 2008 onwards fecal samples continued to be collected on an opportunistic basis to study the genetic structure of both chimpanzee and gorilla communities within the study site. Currently in Loango fecal samples of the two species are collected not only for genetic analyses, but as well for investigating hormone levels and pathogen prevalence. In 2014, in addition to the opportunistic sampling a project was started in which fecal samples were collected systematically for both Chimpanzees and Gorillas, for a PhD project by Laura Hagemann. She aims to examine group dynamics and genetic structure of the two sympatric species, using both the past opportunistic samples and those collected since 2014. The hormone samples we collect will eventually contribute to assessing variability in stress levels in relation to food availability and grouping patterns in the communities under research.

Future Aims

Loango is different from most other chimpanzee research sites due to the high abundance of forest elephants, the presence of gorillas, and the relatively drastic changes in habitat type from the ocean shore inwards across the Rekambo territory. It is therefore our goal to investigate how this exceptional combination of ecological parameters has shaped specific aspects of chimpanzee community structure, home range use and overlap, feeding ecology, interspecific competition, pathogen prevalence and tool use.

Previous Publications

Estienne, V., Mundry, R., Kühl, H. S., & Boesch, C. (2017). Exploitation of underground bee nests by three sympatric consumers in Loango National Park, Gabon. Biotropica, 79(1), 101-109.

Estienne, V., & Boesch, C. (2015). Underground honey extraction by chimpanzees, honey badgers and forest elephants in Loango National Park, Gabon. Folia primatologica, 86(4), 276-277.

van Andel, A. C., Wich, S. A., Boesch, C., Koh, L. P., Robbins, M. M., Kelly, J., & Kühl, H. S. (2015). Locating chimpanzee nests and identifying fruiting trees with an unmanned aerial vehicle. American Journal of Primatology, 77(10), 1122-1134.

Oelze, V. M., Head, J. S., Robbins, M. M., Richards, M. P., & Boesch, C. (2014). Niche differentiation and dietary seasonality among sympatric gorillas and chimpanzees in Loango National Park (Gabon) revealed by stable isotope analysis. Journal of Human Evolution, 66(1), 95-106.

Head, J. S., Robbins, M. M., Mundry, R., Makaga, L., & Boesch, C. (2012). Remote video-camera traps measure habitat use and competitive exclusion among sympatric chimpanzee, gorilla and elephant in Loango National Park, Gabon. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 28(6), 571-583.

Arandjelovic, M., Head, J., Rabanal, L. I., Schubert, G., Mettke, E., Boesch, C., Robbins, M. M., & Vigilant, L. (2011). Non-Invasive genetic monitoring of wild central chimpanzees. PLoS ONE, 6(3): e14761.

Head, J. S., Boesch, C., Makaga, L., & Robbins, M. M. (2011). Sympatric chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) and gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) in Loango National Park, Gabon: Dietary composition, seasonality, and intersite comparisons. International Journal of Primatology, 32(3), 755-775.

Rabanal, L. I., Kuehl, H., Mundry, R., Robbins, M. M., & Boesch, C. (2010). Oil prospecting and its impact on large rainforest mammals in Loango National Park, Gabon. Biological Conservation, 143(4), 1017-1024.

Boesch, C., Head, J., & Robbins, M. M. (2009). Complex tool sets for honey extraction among chimpanzees in Loango National Park, Gabon. Journal of Human Evolution, 56(6), 560-569.

Boesch, C., Head, J., Tagg, N., Arandjelovic, M., Vigilant, L., & Robbins, M. M. (2007). Fatal chimpanzee attack in Loango National Park, Gabon. International Journal of Primatology, 28(5), 1025-1034.

Ozouga field camp:

The Ozouga camp is located at the end of a long stretch of savannah which runs parallel to the Atlantic coast line. At Camp we try to be as self-sustainable as possible; all drinking water is collected on-site via rain catchment systems and one underground well, whilst water for showering and washing comes from a small forest river. We have three solar panels which provide us with enough electricity for charging our GPS devices and electronic equipment. The camp has seen huge improvements in recent years, most notably the addition of cabins in 2015, as opposed to tents. We now have 7 main sleeping rooms, an office, dining room, kitchen and semi-covered fireplace. Transport to and from the nearest village is made possible by two off-road quadbikes and one two-seater buggy. We possess as well a Landover which is used for transporting people and materials from the major cities.

Field staff:

Our field team is composed of 5 indigenous pygmy trackers, 2 local Eco-guides, 3 expat research assistants, a cook, a driver and a camp manager. Although this group is constantly changing, we have several long-term contracts with certain trackers and guides who are valuable sources of knowledge and experience.

Camp manager

Erwan Theleste

Eco-Guides

Ulrich Bora Moussoami
Fredy Mackaya

Trackers

Émile Mbongo
Jean-Édouard Nzengue
Piere Mbonjo

Cook

Christopher Igoumounamendet

Driver

Serge Emane

Photographs courtesy of:

Erwan Theleste, Matthew Lewis, Roland Hilgartner, Sarah Bunel and Tobias Deschner

For further information contact:

Dr. Tobias Deschner
Director of the Loango Chimpanzee Project
phone: +49 341 3550 207
e-mail: deschner@[>>> Please remove the brackets! <<<]eva.mpg.de