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Great Ape Evolutionary Ecology and Conservation

Group leader: Dr. Hjalmar Kühl

All great ape species have experienced considerable declines in the recent past due to loss of their habitat, hunting for bushmeat and infectious disease outbreaks. This serious problem also affects the research groups we are working with, as documented by a number of cases in which individuals we studied were lost due to poaching or disease outbreaks. Therefore, an important focus of our work is in the field of conservation biology and how science can make a contribution to conservation. We mainly work in the following domains:

Ape population status information

Reliable information on local, regional and range-wide ape population status is extremely important for informing policy makers, action plan processes, conservation managers, governments or land-use planners. In collaboration with several other institutions and funding agencies, we have developed the A.P.E.S. Portal platform that also contains the IUCN/A.P.E.S. Database, a repository for ape population datasets. The A.P.E.S. Portal provides a wide spectrum of information on the status of apes, their threats and conservation.

Development of monitoring approaches

Assessing ape population status is not trivial and estimating ape population size, local densities or distribution can be very challenging. In collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology, the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits and the Computer Vision and Animal Biometrics research group at Bristol University, we are developing automated audiovisual approaches to great ape monitoring. Such software will discriminate between chimpanzee and gorilla faces and classify them individually. Footage from remote video traps will then be processed for ape density estimation (www.saisbeco.de). Similarly, we are developing software to automatically extract ape and primate vocalizations from long-term audio recordings. This extracted information will be fed into occurrence models or used for assessing biodiversity.

Evidence-based conservation

Another field where science can make a contribution to conservation is in evaluating the effectiveness of various conservation activities. One approach we use is site-based and uses detailed, local-scale, ape population data to assess the effectiveness of particular conservation activities, such as law enforcement or long-term research presence. Another approach we use examines large scale effectiveness by comparing conservation success across many sites.

In addition, the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation and the student-led Conservation Group have been working to develop in-situ conservation projects to contribute to improve the prospect of survival for the African Apes (e.g.: clubpan.blogspot.com).