Eavesdropping on Primate Poachers

Preuss’s Red Colobus, one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world

We hate poaching, so any novel method of preventing it is good news in our opinion. From Claire Salisbury for Mongabay’s Great Apes series, on a new project to particularly protect the Preuss’s Red Colobus, a severely endangered primate in Africa:

Cameroon’s Korup National Park is home to elephants, chimpanzees, red colobus monkeys, drill, and a myriad of noisy species, whose squawks, squeals and howls fill the forest air. For more than two years, twelve acoustic monitors were deployed there and recorded every sound covering a 54 square kilometer (21 square mile) area of protected tropical forest.

They were tuned to listen around the clock for just one sound: gunshots.

“Our ultimate goal is to improve the effectiveness of anti-poaching patrols in African tropical forest protected areas,” Joshua Linder, one of the lead scientists working on the acoustic monitoring project, told Mongabay.

Bushmeat is a major source of protein in Central Africa, with 4.5 million tons extracted from the Congo Basin each year. Taking bushmeat itself is not always illegal, and it can be a vital source of protein for the poor and a valued commodity for the rich. But hunting endangered species, especially within protected areas, is against the law. It can pose a real threat to the survival of animal populations, and particularly to rare species.

Korup’s proximity to Nigeria, just a few kilometers away, makes it attractive to poachers. “[M]uch of the demand comes from Nigeria as well as urban centers in Cameroon,” Linder said. “Hunting of wild meat is very commercialized now. There are professional hunters who earn most of their annual income just from hunting. Nigerian hunters come into Korup to hunt and bring the meat back to Nigeria where it fetches a higher price than in Cameroon.”

The research team is trying to address the poaching threat in what he describes as “one of the most important protected areas in Africa’s Gulf of Guinea region.” Project collaborators include Linder of James Madison University, Peter Wrege of Cornell University, and Christos Astaras and David Macdonald of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, University of Oxford; they are joined by Cameroon-based conservation organizations.

Theirs is an urgent task: “Our acoustic monitoring project suggests that thousands of primates are killed by illegal gun hunting annually in Korup,” the team told Mongabay.

Duikers, rodents, and even elephants are hunted in Korup too, but it is the primates that are of greatest concern to conservationists.

“My own research in Korup shows that hunting is leading to declines in some of Africa’s most threatened primate species,” Linder added, such as the Critically Endangered Preuss’s red colobus (Procolobus preussi), one of the world’s 25 most endangered primates — an animal endemic to western Cameroon and parts of Nigeria. Korup is a critical stronghold for the species. A second Endangered primate, the drill (Mandrillus leucophaeus), is also declining, Linder said.

Read the rest of the article here.

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