I’ve just returned from the U.S. to Brazzaville, the capitol of the Republic of Congo. This is a small city with very friendly people that is located in the south of the country along the impressive Congo River. I’m excited to be back for the start of my 11th year out in the Goualougo Triangle, Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, studying chimpanzees and gorillas!
This trip is unusual, though, because I won’t have a direct departure north to the Goualougo Triangle. I will first visit the coast of Congo, where we have just started a collaboration with conservationists working at the Conkouati-Douli National Park. Conkouati is known to have a large population of chimpanzees, which have reportedly declined substantially over the last two years, possible from poaching. Our collaborators there work for the Wildlife Conservation Society, a non-profit organization that has been working to conserve Congo’s wildlife for nearly 20 years.
By establishing a research presence in the area, we hope to ensure better protection for the apes and other wildlife in the northern sector of the park. For me, this is an extraordinary opportunity. I have never seen wild chimpanzees outside of the Ndoki forests, and so there is much to be discovered about this little-known chimpanzee population.
Our studies in the Goualougo Triangle have shown that chimpanzees in northern Republic of Congo have complex toolkits for obtaining food items compared to chimpanzee populations in east and west Africa. It will be very interesting to see if chimpanzees of Conkouati-Douli have a similar or different tool-using culture.
Such variation is possible. Chimpanzees along the coast of Congo inhabit very different types of forest than those in Goualougo providing them with different challenges and opportunities. This short expedition, which will last a week, will hopefully provide clues into this aspect of the apes’ lives.