Tag Archives: gabon

Bands of chimps attacked and killed gorillas. It’s the first time we’ve witnessed anything like this

It’s the first time this type of distressing behavior has been seen among great apes.

Two male chimps of the Rekambo community in Gabon surveying their territory. Credit: LCP, Lara M. Southern.

Both chimpanzees and gorillas are known to be capable of great violence. But generally, their violent behavior is directed towards members of their own species during internal feuds for territory, resources, and mating rights. This is why recent reports of two fatal fights between chimps and gorillas at Loango National Park in Gabon have had scientists concerned. It’s the first time an inter-great-ape killing has been documented.

“Our observations provide the first evidence that the presence of chimpanzees can have a lethal impact on gorillas. We now want to investigate the factors triggering these surprisingly aggressive interactions,” says Tobias Deschner, a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

War of the apes

Researchers with the Loango Chimpanzee Project have been monitoring apes living in the park since 2005. The aim of this research project is to investigate tool use, hunting behavior, territoriality, communication, and diseases to gain a better understanding of the behavioral diversity and complexity in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes).

Between 2014 and 2018, the researchers observed nine episodes in which chimps and gorillas interacted. That's nothing out of the ordinary as these types of encounters are quite common in eastern and central Africa.

Up until recently, all chimp-gorilla encounters observed by researchers were peaceful and sometimes even playful. Imagine their surprise when, in 2019, they witnessed not one but two violent clashes between these apes, each leading to deaths.

In both instances, the male chimps ganged up on gorillas at the outer edge of the chimps' territory. Although gorillas are enormously stronger than chimps, they were heavily outnumbered in both instances. Researchers happened to be only 30 meters (100 ft) away when the violence erupted, which made these episodes even more harrowing.

"At first, we only noticed screams of chimpanzees and thought we were observing a typical encounter between individuals of neighboring chimpanzee communities. But then, we heard chest beats, a display characteristic for gorillas, and realized that the chimpanzees had encountered a group of five gorillas," said Lara M. Southern, Ph.D. student and first author of the study, recalling one of the lethal clashes from 2019.

Interspecies battles

The fights lasted between 50 and 80 minutes. The chimps formed coalitions of more than two dozen members and attacked two families of gorillas. Although two silverbacks (the leaders of the group) and the females resisted and fought back, two gorilla infants were separated from their mothers during the chaos and were killed. Several chimps were injured in battle, including a severe injury incurred by an adolescent female, but there was no fatality on their side.

The aggressive chimps acted in coordination, working together to isolate the weakest members of the gorilla groups. This is how they ultimately were able to separate the baby gorillas from their mothers.

These concerning events are clearly atypical and may be the result of dwindling shared resources. Fruit availability has been relatively low in tropical forests in Gabon in recent years, which may be due to climate change. If this turns out to be indeed the case, then we can add inter-ape warfare to the ignoble list of environmental damage caused by human activity.

"We are only at the beginning to understand the effects of competition on interactions between the two great ape species in Loango," says Simone Pika. "Our study shows that there is still a lot to explore and discover about our closest living relatives, and that Loango National Park with its unique mosaic habitat is a unique place to do so."

The distressing clashes between the apes were described in a study that appeared this week in the journal Scientific Reports.

Gabon becomes first African country to get paid for protecting its forests

Gabon, an equatorial country located at the western end of the Congo Basin rainforest, has just become the first African country to receive payment for reducing carbon emissions by protecting its rainforest. More than 90% of the country is covered by forests, which means it captures more carbon dioxide (CO2) than what it emits.  Some believe this could be a pathway to getting developing nations (which have historically produced less greenhouse gas than developed nations) on board for reducing their emissions.

Image credit: Flickr/ Corinne Staley

Gabon has received $17 million from the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI), an organization launched in 2015 by the United Nations and backed by international donors. The payment came after independent experts verified Gabon’s results, showing a decline in the country’s emissions in 2016 and 2017, the government said. It’s not a large sum, but it can help get the ball rolling.

CAFI provides financial incentives to Central African governments to pursue economic growth without harming the vast forests that cover much of the region. While the amount received by Gabon only represents 0.1% of its annual GDP, the government sees it as an important step forward, the Forest Minister Lee White told the BBC — and potentially, a sign of what’s to come.

The government signed a 10-year deal with CAFI in 2019 through which it will receive a total of $150 million if it meets climate change targets. The tropical country committed to cut its carbon emissions in half by 2025 from 2005 levels. The funds will be used to invest in local forestry projects, improving the livelihoods of communities in Gabon. 

“This is the first time an African country has been rewarded for reducing forest-related emissions at the national level,” Sveinung Rotevatn, Norway’s Minister of Environment, whose government is a major donor to CAFI, said in a statement. “The country has demonstrated that emissions reductions can be achieved in the Congo Basin Forest.”

Rainforest Foundation, which works on rainforest protection and community land rights, told the BBC that while money to protect forests is important, this payment “risks being a public relations exercise”. They pointed to data from the monitoring group Global Forest Watch, which showed that 2017 saw one of the highest rates of forest loss in Gabon since 2001.

The tropical forests of the Congo basin are the second largest in the world after those of the Amazon Basin. They cover almost 200 million hectares and span across six countries of Central Africa. Gabon has about 22 million hectares of tropical rainforests, home to emblematic species such as mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx) and forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis). 

Gabon created a network of 13 protected forest areas in 2002, following a proposal from the World Conservation Society to the national government. National parks now cover three million hectares, or 11% of the country. Environmental organizations see this as a limited effort, as half of the country’s forests are allocated to extractive industry sectors. 

About 25% of the country’s population lives in rural areas and depend on forest goods for sustaining their needs, which include timber and non-timber forest products such as bushmeat. The country’s main drivers of deforestation include agricultural expansion, timber and fuelwood extraction, and infrastructure development.