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BMC Ecol. 2010 Jan 22;10:2. doi: 10.1186/1472-6785-10-2.

Tracing the origins of rescued chimpanzees reveals widespread chimpanzee hunting in Cameroon.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, University at Albany - State University of New York, Albany, NY 12222, USA.



While wild chimpanzees are experiencing drastic population declines, their numbers at African rescue and rehabilitation projects are growing rapidly. Chimpanzees follow complex routes to these refuges; and their geographic origins are often unclear. Identifying areas where hunting occurs can help law enforcement authorities focus scarce resources for wildlife protection planning. Efficiently focusing these resources is particularly important in Cameroon because this country is a key transportation waypoint for international wildlife crime syndicates. Furthermore, Cameroon is home to two chimpanzee subspecies, which makes ascertaining the origins of these chimpanzees important for reintroduction planning and for scientific investigations involving these chimpanzees.


We estimated geographic origins of 46 chimpanzees from the Limbe Wildlife Centre (LWC) in Cameroon. Using Bayesian approximation methods, we determined their origins using mtDNA sequences and microsatellite (STRP) genotypes compared to a spatial map of georeferenced chimpanzee samples from 10 locations spanning Cameroon and Nigeria. The LWC chimpanzees come from multiple regions of Cameroon or forested areas straddling the Cameroon-Nigeria border. The LWC chimpanzees were partitioned further as originating from one of three biogeographically important zones occurring in Cameroon, but we were unable to refine these origin estimates to more specific areas within these three zones.


Our findings suggest that chimpanzee hunting is widespread across Cameroon. Live animal smuggling appears to occur locally within Cameroon, despite the existence of local wildlife cartels that operate internationally. This pattern varies from the illegal wildlife trade patterns observed in other commercially valuable species, such as elephants, where specific populations are targeted for exploitation. A broader sample of rescued chimpanzees compared against a more comprehensive grid of georeferenced samples may reveal 'hotspots' of chimpanzee hunting and live animal transport routes in Cameroon. These results illustrate also that clarifying the origins of refuge chimpanzees is an important tool for designing reintroduction programs. Finally, chimpanzees at refuges are frequently used in scientific investigations, such as studies investigating the history of zoonotic diseases. Our results provide important new information for interpreting these studies within a precise geographical framework.

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