Human-chimpanzee interactions

© Liran Samuni / TCP

Human-Chimpanzee interactions

In West Africa, approximately 80% of the original forest cover that was present in the 19th century is now agricultural-forest mosaic.

Human use of core chimpanzee range areas to access water, forest or wildlife products, and chimpanzees entering human agricultural areas and settlements can increase encounter rates, heightening disease transmission risks (see above), among other potentially negative outcomes. Such intensification in spatial overlap can trigger or aggravate competition for water and food – both wild foods harvested by people and cultivated human foods consumed by chimpanzees. Across Africa, chimpanzees have been reported to eat 36 different crop species (ibid.).

In most situations, unhabituated chimpanzees will flee upon seeing or hearing a human; however, if provoked and chimpanzees perceive humans as a threat, they may behave aggressively. Moreover, problematic chimpanzee behaviour, such as attacks on local people, is sometimes attributed to “sorcery”, emphasising the need to understand both human and chimpanzee components of interactions when developing conservation strategies.

Any intolerance or fear of chimpanzees – whether based on real or perceived costs and risks – may result in people chasing chimpanzees or, in extreme cases, killing them. Situations involving the injury, killing or capture of chimpanzees can also aggravate relations between farmers, labourers and landowners and protected area authorities (PAAs) and managers, challenging conservation efforts for the species as interests and values clash. Significant efforts are required to address such conflicts and promote win-win coexistence scenarios. Often they demand interdisciplinary research, awareness raising, dialogue and local engagement in decision-making processes.

13_Tatyana Humle-Bossou chimpanzee passing behing a house in the village to access papaya

©  © Tatyana Humle

Issues of human-chimpanzee coexistence are complex and dynamic, as they are embedded in a web of ecological, socio-economical, cultural and political contexts that are often locally specific. However, as human populations increase and landscapes continue to change across West Africa, there will likely be misalignments between the needs of both people and chimpanzees. Development and conservation agendas will sometimes clash, resulting in growing intolerance, and negative attitudes and behaviours towards chimpanzees. This risks accelerating chimpanzee population declines, although in some regions cultural taboos may buffer this effect (Yamakoshi 2005; Heinicke et al. 2019b).