A Talk on the Wild Side.
[Guest blog from the Chimpanzee Conservation Center]
|Staff and volunteers at CCC are trained with protocols to prevent disease transfer between chimpanzees and humans. Photo by C. Danaud/CCC|
The Chimpanzee Conservation Center (CCC) is the only chimpanzee sanctuary in Guinea. The center is located in the Parc National du Haut Niger (PNHN), one of two national parks in the country and a priority site for the conservation of chimpanzees. The CCC currently rehabilitates and cares for 45 rescued chimpanzees. These orphaned chimpanzees are primarily victims of the pet trade and arrive at the CCC after being confiscated by the national authorities.
The recent outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Guinea and other countries in West Africa is a major concern to us here at the CCC. Not only is Ebola transferable between humans and animals, including chimpanzees, but we have been dealing with several additional challenges as a consequence of the recent outbreak.
Since humans and chimpanzees share more than 98 percent of the same DNA and are affected by many of the same diseases, we at the CCC have a protocol in place to prevent transmission of diseases between the chimpanzees and us. Although this Ebola outbreak has erroneously caused some people in some areas to fear primates, the people around the PNHN seem to regard the chimpanzees at the CCC differently, probably due to our long lasting commitments in the area.
Due to Ebola, the governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra-Leone have issued warnings and bans on bushmeat. Although these bans aren't applied, the population has nonetheless significantly reduced bushmeat consumption, at least in Guinea. This means that bushmeat is in lower demand in Guinea, and prices have plunged over the last few months (a bush rat at market, for example, going from 30,000 Guinea Francs (GNF) to 10,000 GNF; 10,000 GNF equals approximately $1.41).
|Illegally harvested fish are smoked within park boundaries before being transported to market. Photo by Guillaume Banville/CCC|
This has had both positive and negative consequences. Primate hunting is reduced, but illegal fishing activities have skyrocketed in the Parc National du Haut Niger, even within its most heavily protected sites.
Prior to our first release of chimpanzees in the PNHN in 2008, the CCC had started protecting the northern part of the core area of PNHN known as the Mafou against illegal hunting and illegal harvesting of wood. In 2009, when a fishing ban was first put in place, we started to address illegal fishing within the core area. Along with the ban, river blocks were set up and they acted as strong deterrents. We succeeded in reducing the number of illegal fishermen. Thanks to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grants from its Great Ape Conservation Fund, we have been able to maintain law enforcement and protection efforts for the past five years.
Since 2009, the groups of fishermen from the PNHN’s closest cities have generally respected the fishing ban along the Niger River bordering the Mafou core area. However, with the recent increase in demand for fish, they have once again gone against the law, in spite of the presence of ecoguards as deterrence. Over the past months, the fishermen have been entering the protected area in mass to fish. One group included nearly 200 people with 40 pirogues (African fishing boats), and the CCC had to fund three missions to try to expel them from the protected area.
|Mixed mission to expel illegal fishing activities in PNHN with ecoguards, gendarme, fishing authorities and CCC with the military truck and driver. Photo by Estelle Raballand/CCC|
While Ebola may protect some animal species from being hunted for bushmeat, illegal fishing is becoming in some areas a larger and more serious conservation issue. In some areas primates are also being targeted because they are perceived as carriers of Ebola.
As the director of the CCC, I hope that more education regarding Ebola both in Guinea and abroad will help to put an end to some of the false information that is leading to panic and unfounded fear in Europe and the United States, and to the targeting of primates in some regions of Africa.