News Round-Up

To save wild chimpanzees, imagine their habitat is an electrical circuit


The chimpanzee is our closest living relative, and it could be facing extinction. There were one million chimpanzees in 1900, but today, 300,000 at most are thought to remain in the wild.

Prime African rainforest habitat is being broken up by loggers and poachers, and dried out by climate change. Habitat loss robs species of food sources and nesting sites, but it also prevents individuals moving between the remaining habitat, leaving populations isolated and in danger of inbreeding. To reverse the fragmenting of habitats, scientists often try to restore and expand green corridors of fast-growing trees between the remaining patches, to encourage animals to keep moving and stay connected.

Understanding how chimpanzee habitats linked up in the past can help scientists identify the priority areas for chimpanzee conservation today. But chimpanzees have the widest range of any great ape species. How can we spread our efforts efficiently to find these areas across the broad swathe of rainforest, woodland and savanna they occupy? In western Tanzania alone, chimpanzees range across 20,000 square kilometres. We could try to track their movements by fitting several apes with radio-tracking devices, but this would mean trapping and sedating lots of different animals. MORE