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Chimpanzee ’workshop’ discovered in Congo


Region once slated for logging supports tool-making chimps

Scientists have discovered that a remote rainforest in Central Africa, saved from logging by a collaboration among the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, a timber company and the Republic of Congo, is home to a population of innovative, tool-making chimpanzees that "fish" for termite dinners. According to a study in the November issue of the journal The American Naturalist, chimps living in the 100-square-mile "Goualougo Triangle" have given researchers a comprehensive snapshot of more complex tool-use among non-human large primates.

Though earlier studies have documented tool use among chimps in eastern Africa and other regions, authors Crickette Sanz of Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, WCS researcher David Morgan of Cambridge University, and Steve Gulick of Wildland Security say that the Goualougo chimps use tools in different ways than previously observed. The study, funded in large part by WCS and National Geographic, relied on remote video cameras recording chimps using heavy sticks to punch holes in termite mounds, then using a lighter stick known as a "fishing tool" to extract termites. For underground termite mounds a different stick-tool was used to perforate the nest surface, before scooping up the termites.

But perhaps even most remarkable is the fact that the chimpanzee population still exists in this remote forest. Four years ago, the Swiss-based timber company CIB had planned to establish a logging operation here, which would have irreparably harmed this unique population that WCS conservationists believe may have virtually no historic contact with humans. Subsequent efforts by WCS to work with CIB and the Republic of Congo led to the eventual protection of the forest, which is now an integral part of Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, a protected area WCS helped create in 1993.

"Had the Wildlife Conservation Society not helped to save the Goualougo from being logged, this discovery would not have been made and the forest and the chimps would have been lost," said Steve Gulick of Wildland Security. "At the same time, this study makes one wonder about the unnamed and never-to-be-known Goualougos now threatened before the saw."

Stephen Sautner | EurekAlert!
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