There’s always a buzz around the office when a new BBC Natural History documentary airs, but the Dynasties series is particularly interesting for our Tropical Forests team because it is featuring two of the most iconic species found in our Rainforests projects.
The opening episode of the series gave as an in-depth look into the trials and tribulations of life as a Western chimpanzee, the same species of chimpanzee as found in Gola Rainforest.
Western chimpanzees - from Gola Rainforest, Sierra Leone
The Western chimpanzee is found only in the forest belt of West African between Senegal and Ghana. In 2016, this subspecies of chimpanzee was reclassified to the Critically Endangered status on the IUCN red list of globally threatened species. This is just one step away from being extinct in the wild and this new status was assigned on the basis that there has been a significant decline in population over the past 50 years and because the causes of this decline continue to threaten the species.
In the Dynasties episode they mentioned the impacts of habitat loss and poaching, the two main threats to western chimpanzees across their range.
Western chimpanzees primarily live in forested areas, but across West Africa more than 70% of their forest habitat has been lost to agricultural conversion. As a result, chimpanzee populations are being squeezed into smaller and smaller fragments of forests.
Forest cover in 1923
Forest cover in 2004
Gola Rainforest National Park is a stronghold for chimpanzees, home to over 300 individuals. It’s possibly one of the only areas currently supporting a stable population, testament to the work being done by all the partners and communities to protect the forest.
Critically, the work we do at Gola Rainforest isn’t just to protect the National Park, which is legally protected from deforestation. In fact, some of the most important work is done in partnership with the communities living around the National Park. It is these community-owned lands that connect the different pockets of protected forest within the Greater Gola Landscape Area and play a vital role in allowing wildlife to pass between them. They are, in effect, supporting a landscape-scale forest ecosystem. Therefore, we are working with communities to identify areas most critical for wildlife and empowering people to farm and earn a living in ways that support wildlife connectivity and do not impact on the forest ecosystem.
Protected Areas (shown in green) in the Greater Gola Landscape Area - which straddles the Sierra Leone - Liberia border. The work delivered as part of the RSPB's Gola Rainforest Project includes working with communities in the areas that connect and surround the Protected Areas, ensuring habitat connectivity.
One of the most exciting parts of the documentary for us though was getting to see the complex social behaviour of the chimpanzees. Despite Gola having a healthy population, the chimpanzees are not habituated to people like those that were filmed for the programme. As a result, visual observations of the chimpanzees are few and far between. So, the documentary allowed us to imagine what dramas might be unfolding on a daily basis between Gola’s chimps deep within the forest.
The final episode of the Dynasties series, airing on 9th December, will be featuring tigers. We are looking forward to seeing what comparisons we can draw from this episode with the Sumatran tigers we protect at our Hutan Harapan project in Indonesia.
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