Reports of deforestation endangering chimpanzees at Gombe National Park have alarmed the government, which has promised to probe the allegations.
The Permanent Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Tourism and Natural Resources, Major General Gaudence Milanzi, said in Dar es Salaam yesterday that the government will accord the matter the appropriate weight it deserves.
The ministry quickly responded yesterday to the new report by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), with the impact of deforestation around the park. NASA collaborated with the US Geological Survey (USGS) to capture the images with the Landsat satellite in efforts to help in the conservation of chimpanzees, which are described as endangered species.
The report, published on the ‘Mail Online’ newspaper of the United Kingdom, says that increased pressure on the land due to population explosion and poverty has led to the forest clearance for agriculture, logging and charcoal production. There are some 345,000 or fewer chimps in the wild, with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifying them as critically endangered species.
“We, in the ministry, need to work on these reports ... claims that chimpanzees at the park are at risk should be looked into critically,” Major General Milanzi noted with concern.
He said it was fortunate that either the natural resources minister or his deputy will be heading to the area this weekend to award Dr Jane Goodall, a famous British primatologist who has been tirelessly protecting the chimpanzee at the park since early 1970s.
He argued, however, that generally deforestation was not a new challenge and the government has been fighting against it in many parts of the country. Chimpanzees in the region used to live in an uninterrupted belt of forests and woodlands from Lake Tanganyika westward through Uganda and the Congo Basin to western Africa.
The report says it was in the early 1970s, 10 or so years after Dr Goodall first arrived in the region and began conserving chimpanzees that forest began to be cut down. Today the belt per se has gone because it’s being divided into increasingly small fragments,’ said Dr Jane Goodall (82), who is still involved in conservation efforts at her namesake institute. But NASA, the USGS and the Jane Goodall Institute have collaborated in an effort to conserve the chimps and the forest.
“When deforestation happens, important ecological functions and services are lost - impacting both chimps and people. The chimpanzees lose feeding and nesting grounds and it is very difficult for the territorial animals to shift their home range to another location,” said Dr Lilian Pintea, the Vice-President of Conservation science for the Jane Goodall Institute
Dr Pintea said: “When we first got our landsat satellite images from ‘72 and ‘99, we made a natural color composite of Gombe and the area outside Gombe and put them side-by-side and realised that lots of deforestation happened. Added, she: “You can see it, the villages lost maybe 90 to 80 per cent of the forest cover. And they will tell stories about how the hills were covered in forest. But then when you show them a picture, it’s very shocking to everybody, realising what has been lost.”