The chimpanzees in the Bossou, Guinea community described in today’s article face dangers other than simple respiratory epidemics — though the one that killed the two infants described in a paper in this week’s edition of the journal Current Biology did wipe out five of them, more than a quarter of the population.
Dora Biro, one of the Oxford University zoologists who does field work watching the group, says their concern is that it is so small that the group will eventually die out. There are only 13 chimpanzees in the community today, she says.
Their numbers are so small because “the core range of this community consists of three hills and everywhere around it is savanna.” Chimps don’t like to cross open savanna, so they’re effectively penned in on their little ‘island’ of trees.
But just three and a half miles away is “a huge mountain range full of chimpanzees.” Chimps naturally move out of their birth group and into others as they mature, so it would be normal for the Bossou group to continually get an influx of new members from other troupes. But the distance, and the danger, is too great.
However, the Japanese team of biologists who originally established the observation site have now begun to plant a corridor of trees across the savanna to try to connect the Bossou ‘island’ of hills to the nearby Nimba mountain range where the other chimpanzees live.
“The trees still need to grow before they’re at all passable for chimps,” says Biro. “The idea is if this corridor does work, if the trees survive, it will give chimps access both in and out, and that could save the community.”
It’s called The Green Corridor Project and it’s being spearheaded by Tetsuro Matsuzawa, who helped establish the site.