The Jane Goodall Institute programme for the research and conservation of chimpanzees and the sustainable management of natural resources is carried out in in the Kédougou region, in southeastern Senegal, and across the border in the north of Guinea. The majority of the JGI activities in Senegal are carried out within the Dindéfélo Community Nature reserve although the programme also includes other villages and adjacent areas.
Kédougou is the one of the only regions with chimpanzees in its territory. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the chimpanzees that live in Senegal, are in critically endangered. In fact, the presence of these primates was the main reason for the creation of the Dindéfélo Community as a protected area.
The Reserve is located at the edge of the Fouta Jallon mountain range, at the source of the Gambia, Senegal and Niger rivers. Its mountains, rare to see in a country that is practically flat, its topography and its climate (intense drought period from October to May and a rainy season from May to September) favor the existence of different types of forests and savannas, creating a spectacular landscape and an impressive diversity of fauna.
With the creation of the Dindéfélo Community Nature Reserve and the activities of the JGI in Senegal, an ecotourism model has been created to contribute to the sustainable development of the community as well as to the conservation of the chimpanzee and their environment.
Chimpanzees are one of the species of great apes that inhabit the planet and they are in the wild in tropical Africa. Together with the bonobos, chimpanzees are the closest species to humans in physical, behavioral and genetic terms (there is only a genetic difference between the chimpanzees and us of about 1,4%), so the study of chimpanzees provides an important approach for the knowledge of our evolutionary history. They are extremely social and intelligent animals, with high cognitive abilities for learning. A large number of behaviors are transmitted from generation to generation, which means that chimpanzees have cultural behaviors.
The chimpanzee of Western Africa is one of the two most endangered chimpanzee subspecies together with the chimpanzee of Nigeria-Cameroon. The chimpanzee of Western Africa is extinct in Togo and Gambia, potentially extinct in Benin and it could soon be pushed to the extinction in Burkina Faso, Senegal – in 2001 Butynski estimated the number of chimpanzees in Senegal between 200 to 400 individuals- and Ghana. The IUCN cataloged this subspecies as “critically endangered” on the 2016 Red List.
The fragmentation and loss of habitat as a result of human activities such as deforestation, either by cutting trees down or because the establishment of crop fields and fires, are some the biggest threats that chimpanzees suffer in West Africa in Senegal, along with the construction of infrastructures (water damn, high-tension lines & towers, roads, etc). For this reason, many populations of this subspecies are isolated in patches of forest which compromises their long-term survival. Fortunately, neither poaching nor illegal trafficking of chimpanzees are currently the main threat for the survival of this subspecies in Senegal but they are a threat in Guinea and other countries
Photo credit: Maria Lòpez / JGI Spain