Illegal miners destroying swathes of wildlife in Democratic Republic of Congo – Chimps hit hard
Destrucción de la vida salvaje en la República Democrática del Congo por sectores mineros ilegales – Un duro golpe para los chimpancés
Chimpanzee orphaned by the bushmeat trade in DRC. Credit Cleve Hicks.
Scientist raises the alarm about chimpanzee massacre
March 2009. Poachers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) threaten the existence of the largest remaining continuous population of chimpanzees in the world. This conclusion is drawn by Cleve Hicks, based on observations made during his 2007-2008 survey of towns, villages and forests in the Buta-Aketi region of the DRC. Hicks, a researcher at the University of Amsterdam (UvA), describes the plight of the apes and other forest creatures in a new e-book to be released this week. Together with colleagues, Hicks was able to take in five orphaned chimpanzees who will soon be sent to a sanctuary in eastern Congo.
During his previous one and a half year study near the town of Bili, the DRC between 2004-2007, Cleve Hicks, who works for the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) of the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, did not observe a single chimpanzee orphan or carcass in the area, despite the fact that chimpanzees were numerous in the forests there.
Overrun by gold miners –
When Bili was overrun with gold miners in June 2007, Hicks conducted a 13 month survey of large mammals in the 200 kilometres surrounding Bili, in the Buta Aketi region. He found that the chimpanzees in this region all had the same culture (ground-nesting, snail-smashing, ant-dipping) as the Bili apes, and, as at Bili, they were found even within 15 kms of all major population centres surveyed. He concludes that the chimpanzees of northern DRC have not yet become fragmented into scattered populations by human activities.
Cleve Hicks saw many orphans and carcasses in the markets since illegal miners moved into the area. Photo credit Cleve Hicks.
Markets full of chimp carcasses and orphans – And other wildlife including okapi
However, during this most recent study period, Hicks and his staff witnessed 34 chimpanzee orphans and 31 carcasses for sale in the Buta-Aketi-Bambesa area. In addition, the team documented 10 okapi skins, 9 leopard skins, the parts of 13 elephants and hundreds of monkey orphans and carcasses.
Locals have told Hicks that up to a few years ago there was very little poaching (except for elephants) in the area, and that it is the mining of diamonds and gold that has lead to the current slaughter of wildlife. Sadly, there is evidence that the bushmeat trade is spreading rapidly into the Bili and Rubi-Tele protected areas, both of which have been recently invaded by illegal miners. Since Hicks left in November 2008, his colleagues Laura Darby and Adam Singh have observed another seven chimpanzee orphans and 3 carcasses.
Together with Darby and Singh, Hicks was able to take in five chimpanzee orphans who will soon find a home in a licensed sanctuary in the DRC. In addition, the Wasmoeth Wildlife foundation is now building a chimpanzee sanctuary called Boyoma in Kisangani.
However, according to Hicks if something is not done now, we will soon lose one of the largest remaining tracts of untouched wilderness on the planet, and with it will go the apes, elephants, okapis and traditional human societies that depend upon its existence. Please see Hicks’ new ebook describing the crisis, which can be viewed at www.wasmoethwildlife.org.
Courtesy of Cleve Hicks and the Universiteit van Amsterdam (UVA)