To determine the actions needed to ensure the survival of western chimpanzees, a range of stakeholders convened for a workshop in Monrovia, Liberia. Participants included representatives of the governments of the western chimpanzee’s eight range countries, conservation non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations, researchers, and donor organisations. This document reports on the outcomes of the workshop and details a proposal for a path forward, providing a collective call for concrete action towards saving western chimpanzees.
In 2016, IUCN uplisted the western chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes verus, from “Endangered” to “Critically Endangered”, reflecting the subspecies’ increasingly dire conservation status. It occurs in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Senegal and Sierra Leone, but has been extirpated in three countries – Benin, Burkina Faso and Togo. Of the four recognised chimpanzee subspecies, Pan troglodytes verus is under the greatest threat. The population is estimated to have declined by 80% between 1990 and 2014, to approximately 52,800 individuals. The four chimpanzee subspecies have experienced an overall range reduction of 20% in just eight years, and much of this contraction can be linked to habitat loss, poaching and disease.
Over 10% of the western chimpanzee’s current geographic range is habitat already earmarked for large-scale infrastructure development, and this in addition to extensive overlap with land targeted for industrial extraction, or suitable for agricultural plantations. Much of the population is unprotected, with only 17% of western chimpanzees residing in protected areas, leaving 83% under no formal protection. This subspecies occurs in a region with high human population growth, exposing it to potential conflicts of interest with both large- and small-scale developments. West Africa is anticipated to experience one of the world’s highest rates of urban and industrialised development. Rates of habitat loss are likely to escalate, as annual forest loss is predicted to reach 20% by 2030 and over 60% by the year 2050. Already, nearly 40% of western chimpanzees live within 5 km of a human settlement and nearly 60% within 5 km of a road. There is, therefore, a pressing need to mitigate, reduce or remove ongoing threats in the face of the clear pattern of chimpanzee losses, and to capitalise on conservation opportunities as they arise.
In light of this, western chimpanzees are on a trajectory towards extinction unless drastic measures are taken immediately. The plan presents the status and threats to P. t. verus, based on expert evaluation of the best scientific knowledge available to date. A considerable amount of new data has improved our knowledge of the distribution and status patterns of this subspecies since the first action plan was published in 2003, and an analysis of the threats to chimpanzee populations highlights the need to address these threats and their drivers. Specifically, habitat loss and poaching were identified as the two highest threats to chimpanzees, followed by industrial and artisanal mining, disease, negative interactions between people and chimpanzees, industrial agriculture and road infrastructure development. Multiple indirect drivers also continue to threaten chimpanzees in the region. They include weak environmental governance (particularly lack of law enforcement and inadequate governance of industry), inconsistencies in legislation across countries, inadequate financial and logistical resources for chimpanzee conservation, and lack of consideration of chimpanzees in land-use planning.
VISION & SCOPE
This plan outlines actions, methods and indicators, and identifies implementers for the completion of the objectives given for each strategy, with the goal of achieving a collective vision:
A connected landscape where western chimpanzees and their habitats are valued, protected and thriving; ensuring mutually beneficial coexistence for current and future generations of chimpanzees and humans.
The geographic scope of the plan was defined as the geographic range of the western chimpanzee and encompasses an area of c.523,000 km2. Western chimpanzees currently occur in eight West African countries: Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Senegal and Sierra Leone.
Stakeholders identified the following nine strategies, which encapsulate the efforts needed to conserve western chimpanzees across their geographic range:
This action plan highlights how concerned stakeholders can harmonise their efforts, emphasising the critical role of regional coordination and inter- and multidisciplinary approaches in conserving the western chimpanzee. Finally, this plan also seeks to be dynamic, embedded in a monitoring and evaluation framework that will keep priorities and strategies relevant, updating objectives and information on threats as anthropogenic and ecological pressures evolve across West Africa.
Setting up regional coordination mechanisms:
Effective application of wildlife law requires adequate coordination among a range of international, national and local actors. This action plan highlights actions aimed at ensuring that authorities have a sufficient level of capacity to adequately enforce national laws, identify trafficking routes and coordinate international law enforcement operations. This section also emphasises the vital role that Pan African Sanctuary Alliance members and affiliated sanctuaries play in the application of wildlife law by facilitating confiscations, ensuring the proper placement and care of illegally-held and traded chimpanzees, and providing greater public awareness of the laws protecting chimpanzees and providing for their conservation.
Monitoring and managing disease outbreaks:
This strategy describes a One Health approach to monitoring and managing disease outbreaks that can affect western chimpanzees. The premise of One Health is that people, wildlife and the environment form an interdependent ecosystem that needs to be considered in a holistic manner. Most western chimpanzees live in human-altered landscapes, and are hence vulnerable not only to emerging infectious diseases, but also at risk from pathogens of human origin. Such risks underlie the rationale for a One Health approach as well as disease surveillance to improve conservation management. One Health involves the collaborative efforts of multiple health science professionals, together with their related disciplines and institutions – working locally, nationally and globally – to attain optimal health for people, domestic animals, wildlife, plants and our environment.
As chimpanzee habitat is lost to development and other land uses, integrated land-use planning (LUP) has become critical as it is ever harder to restore and repopulate affected areas, and negative interactions between people and chimpanzees are increasing. Until now, western chimpanzees have rarely been taken into account by planners, at either theoretical or practical levels. The overlap of chimpanzee range with proposed development corridors demonstrates the considerable potential costs to their populations; 10% of western chimpanzees live within 25 km of one of four proposed development corridors. This strategy highlights the critical value of LUP across different scales, with actions aimed at helping prevent or mitigate the impact of development and land conversion on chimpanzees through effective planning.
Maintaining, strengthening and establishing protected areas:
Protected areas (PAs) are critical to the conservation of chimpanzees and their habitats. Despite the creation of several new national parks in recent years, currently only 17% of the population resides in PAs. Historically, PAs in West Africa have served largely as islands, buffering – with varying levels of success – biodiversity in general from habitat destruction. This strategy addresses the need to maintain, strengthen and enlarge PA networks for the conservation of chimpanzees and the rich and threatened wildlife and forests of West Africa, along with the critical ecosystems services they provide.
Despite widespread international interest in chimpanzees, awareness of issues impacting their conservation is limited among several important stakeholder groups, including range country governments, local communities, industry, and border and customs agencies. This strategy presents actions for increasing awareness of chimpanzees as a protected species, the impacts of poaching and illegal trafficking, negative human-chimpanzee interactions, and the importance of maintaining the cultural and genetic diversity of the chimpanzees.
This section reviews important mechanisms and streams for financing conservation efforts focused on the creation of conservation trusts, strengthening the harmonisation of long-term efforts to maximise the effective financing of chimpanzee conservation, including technical, logistical and financial support for range state environmental agencies and protected areas, as well as capacity building and professional development across various sectors, including higher education, in the western chimpanzee range countries.
Defining norms and best practices:
Defining norms and best practices for carrying out conservation activities should be rooted in the best available science. Conservation managers need access to the best techniques to implement programmes designed to counter the negative impacts of artisanal mining, human-wildlife relations, forestry, agriculture and other threats. This strategy presents recommendations to enable those working to conserve great apes to apply best practice to a range of high priority threats.
Eliminating research and data gaps:
Accurate, comprehensive and up-to-date information on the status, distribution and population trends of the subspecies is required to guide effective conservation activities. This strategy highlights the actions needed for a better understanding of western chimpanzee distribution, to establish baselines of genetic and cultural diversity, measures to improve the effectiveness of conservation actions, and improve knowledge and understanding of the illegal chimpanzee trade.
Developing policy and reviewing legal frameworks:
Adequate legislation and policy are critical to law-enforcement efforts, ESIAs, proper regulation of the private sector and other activities that may negatively impact chimpanzees and their habitat. This strategy addresses critical steps in the review of legal texts, incoherencies among them, and existing gaps to provide recommendations for effective legal reform.