Home News Chimpanzees International Chimpanzee Day: Saving the Western Chimpanzee 

International Chimpanzee Day: Saving the Western Chimpanzee 

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) work to protect a key stronghold population of western chimpanzees in High Niger National Park, Guinea – one of seven priority sites for chimpanzee conservation in West Africa. The area harbours a viable wild chimpanzee population of over 500 individuals (around 15% of the country’s population). The High Niger National Park also provides important protection for the Niger River, one of the most important waterways in Africa, traversing five countries and with a basin that feeds into nine more. In fact, Guinea is often referred to as the ‘Water tower’ of Africa due to the Niger River’s importance. 

Image credit: Will Fortescue

The western chimpanzee is the most threatened of all chimpanzee subspecies and has already disappeared from four countries within its natural distribution. They face constant threats, including poaching for bushmeat and the pet trade, as well as deforestation due to commercial logging, and community activities such as land clearing and burning. 

Our project partners on the ground in Guinea work to protect the chimps by rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing chimps – but also by working closely with local communities living on the borders of the park, one of the most remote and marginalised areas of the country. This community work is where DSWF funding is targeted, and it is absolutely vital in both protecting the chimp habitat and in ensuring communities themselves benefit from protecting the chimps. We are one of very few organisations operating in this challenging environment, making our impact all the greater. 

Local people rely on the forest – and therefore it’s vital we work with them to ensure they use the natural resources in the most sustainable way, as traditional practices can have negative impacts on local ecosystems. For example, communities have traditionally harvested honey from natural hives in the forest, but this involves chopping down thousands of trees within the National Park.  To avoid this happening, our project partners have set up a beekeeping and honey making project, enabling the production of sustainable, organic honey – which has the additional benefit of promoting pollination.  Community members eat the honey themselves but are also able to sell the ‘chimpanzee-friendly’ branded honey at up to ten times the price of the produce harvested from the National Park. 

We also fund a gardening project and support local women in growing healthy fruits and vegetables, to feed themselves as well as chimpanzees who are being rehabilitated. Because local people now have access to nutritious food, they no longer need to enter the National Park to obtain fruit (a process which often requires chopping down trees and starting fires).   

Image credit: Chimpanzee Conservation Center

To help protect the Niger River, we fund a community programme to clean vital sections of it. A garbage collection service has also been successfully implemented with excellent take-up, which has vastly reduced the amount of rubbish ending up in the river. At the request of the community, we have also funded reforestation projects in five villages, planting over 6,000 trees. This has helped stabilise the water supply and reduced the risk of flooding.  

DSWF also fund several awareness campaigns to keep local people conscious of the impact on their water supply if they pollute the river and chop down trees. These include billboards and a conservation radio show, which is very impactful given radio is the main source of information for most people in the area. 

As well as those that directly protect the local environment, DSWF fund community projects which provide tangible benefits to the people living on the borders of the National Park. The biggest share of our funding goes towards a two-year support programme which now provides environmental education to 640 children a year, as well as environmental workshops for adults. This support is particularly vital in a country where children, on average, spend just over two years in school, and where many people are unable to read or write. 

Image credit: Chimpanzee Conservation Center

Finally, DSWF supports several livelihood programs for local women, including bag and soap making, and sewing – providing them with an income in an area where job opportunities are scarce. Our project partners support over 800 women a year – vitally important given Guinea is ranked 157th globally by the United Nations for gender inequality, with only 7% of girls having a secondary education. 

Image credit: Will Fortescue

We have been able to work closely with these communities in Guinea after funding projects consistently there for many years and slowly building trust by engaging with local people. We’ve taken the time to discuss and understand their concerns, recognising their reliance on natural resources and providing alternatives and additional livelihoods and opportunities. The result? Incredibly impactful projects providing mutual benefit for both people and chimpanzees.  

Happy International Chimpanzee Day. If you would like to donate towards our incredible work, you can do so here. Or, to adopt a chimpanzee from just £3 per month, you can find out more here.  

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Andrew White
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

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