Research and conservation of non-human primates and their habitats in Kahuzi-Biega National Park
Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP) has a great potential for non-human primate fauna, with about fifteen known species, in addition to a multitude of other fauna and flora of enormous ecological and economic interest. Primate Expertise and Kahuzi Biega combine thier efforts for the sustainable conservation of these resources.
For about thirty years, multiple forms of threats have weighed and continue to weigh on this World Heritage Site including all its biodiversity. These threats can be summarized as deforestation, poaching, mining, etc.
All these threats have a negative impact on the lives of primates and other animal species that sharing the same habitate in KBNP. To face these threats, Primate Expertise collaborates with PNKB in implementing conservation activities both inside and outside the park in the riparians communities.
In its research and conservation program, PEX builds the capacity of KBNP staff in protection of Grauer’s gorilla and other biodiversities. To fulfill these activities Primate Expertise (PEx) is implementing a set of key activities focused on three main areas: biomonitoring, anti-poaching, and capacity building through training and equipping staff.
Biomonitoring and conservation in KBNP
Currently, two conservation targets are being monitored by Primate Expertise in KBNP: Grauer’s gorilla “Gorilla beringei graueri” and the owl-headed monkey “Cercopithecus hamlyni”, which are the most threatened primate species in KBNP, considering their conservation status and the degree of degradation of their settlements. With regard to the monitoring of these two species, PEx is developing several themes and applying for appropriate scientific methods to collect and analyze data on the populations of these primates as well as other animal species found in the same habitats in the KBNP. Thus, PEx is using quadrant and transect methods in combination with camera traps to facilitate the collection of images on these two species and other elusive animal species found in the same habitat.
Activities are currently taking place in the high altitude part of the PNKB, and are gradually moving towards the cecological corridor. The transitional part linking the low altitude sectors to the high altitude one.
Our Camera traps are installed and the data are downloaded after 30 days each time by a mixed team of researchers and eco guards. The downloaded images are visualized and stored through the Camera Base software.
Thousands of images are available so far, their observation has allowed to list 44 animal species sharing the same habitat with the Grauer’s gorilla. The results of the analyses will provide park managers with useful information that can be capitalized on to guide management and conservation initiatives for the KBNP and its biodiversity.
Capacity building is done through training on data collection and analysis methods, strategies for implementing monitoring and anti-poaching activities, etc. The equipment necessary for the implementation of activities in KBNP is regularly provided.
To strengthen the capacity of the KBNP to sustain ecotourism activities and in collaboration with park authorities, PEx has begun this year 2021 the habituation of gorillas a family to human presence, since the families habituated in the current era are insufficient to accommodate thousands of tourists from around the world.
Why do we conduct research on non-human primates?
We conduct research on non-human primates because by studying these primates we are studying ourselves. The study of non-human primates informs us about the evolution of life before civilization, specifically the great apes (Gorillas and Chimpanzees) that are our closest cousins with whom we share over 98% of genetic material. Non-human primates taught us to use plants in traditional medicine.
A survey conducted in the KBNP riparian community (article in press), showed that about 60 human diseases are treated by 8 species of plants among those consumed by the great apes. In the end, research and conservation of non-human primates and their habitats allow present and future generations to benefit from the natural resources bequeathed to us by our forefathers.
How long has PEx been involved in research and conservation of non-human primates and their habitats at KBNP?
Primatological research in Kahuzi-Biega National Park dates back to its inception in the 1970s and has been sporadic. But for more than 30 years, Professor Dr. Augustin Kanyunyi Basabose, founder and Executive Director of Primate Expertise, has been conducting ongoing research on great apes in the mountain forest of KBNP. Aware of the specific richness of non-human primates in the KBNP and the DRC in general, the threats to these primates and their habitats, and the very small number of Congolese researchers in primatology, Augustin K. Basabose, PhD, decided to create Primate Expertise in 2013. The organization effectively started its field activities in 2017 with the KBNP (high altitude part) and the surrounding villages as its intervention area.
Anti-poaching (through patrols and the dismantling of traps) and sanitation in KBNP
In order to ensure territorial integrity and the monitoring of illegal activities such as poaching and the dumping of non-biodegradable waste in the park, Primate Expertise supports KBNP in the organization of patrols to deter poachers, dismantle traps and collect non-biodegradable waste in KBNP. These regular patrols by eco guards have resulted in the dismantling of 274 traps in Grauer’s gorilla habitat specifically in the high altitude part of KBNP during 2019 and 462 traps in 2020.
In the first quarter of 2021, patrols continued and resulted in the dismantling of 230 traps. The upward trend in the number of traps can be explained by the fact that coronavirus pandemic has negatively affected the activity of rangers, who during minimum services are bypassed by poachers to set their traps. However, it should be noted that despite the setting of traps. Since PEx operating in KBNP we can mention that no gorillas have been killed or injured in KBNP. A satifaction of PEx staff and park athorities.
We do also the cleaning activity of the park by collecting waste deposited by poachers, traffickers, and less informed tourists has collected in 2019 more than half a ton of non-biodegradable waste consisting of bags, plastic bottles, synthetic fiber fabrics, cans, etc… This waste is collected by PEx in collaboration with an association of young students (SEED) and the KBNP itself in order to sanitize the habitat of non-human primates, since wild animals have no means for getting rid of this waste and prevent the possible diseases they generate.