Back then, we said there were somewhere between one and two million wild chimps. Now, there are 300,000, maximum. They’re spread over 21 countries, and many of them—like the Gombe chimps—are in small fragmented remnant populations, which in the long term won’t survive.
What are some solutions?
First of all, there are different ways to address different threats. One threat, which is what the Gombe chimps face, is habitat destruction and human population growth. What we’ve introduced recently is a high-resolution mapping GIS system, so [locals] can sit down with these high-resolution maps and actually see where their village boundaries are, and work out which land they want to put under conservation
The other big threat is the use of bush meat, so that’s where education is important. In Uganda, because the chimps and people are living very closely together, we have an intensified effort to help the people and chimps find ways of living together, with buffer zones between the forest and people. But you also need to provide alternate ways of living, for hunters. You can’t just say, ‘Okay, stop hunting,’ because all their revenue is cut off.
Finally, tourism is a two-edged sword. Somehow, you have to bring money in, particularly as far as the governments are concerned—because why wouldn’t they want to make a fortune by selling off a forest concession to a logging company? So we have to try to find other ways to make money [to avoid logging.]
Do you still spend any times with chimps in the field?
Not really. I get back to Gombe twice a year, and sometimes I see the chimps, and sometimes I don’t—I’m not there for very long. I’m not as fit as I used to be, so if they’re way up at the top of the mountain, it’s tough.
Do you miss being out in the field with them?
I do. A lot of it is just being out in the forest. But Gombe is very different for me, now. There are more tourists, wider trails, so it’s hard to be with chimps on your own. We don’t manage the tourism, so although there are rules about how many tourists can be with the chimps, the rules get interpreted in such a way that you can have three groups of six tourists all clustered around one chimp and her offspring. It’s very disturbing to me. But the chimps don’t seem to care that much.
How does chimp behavior help us better understand human behavior?