Covid-19 poses a serious challenge to conserve chimpanzee in Tanzania

14Sep 2020
The Guardian
Covid-19 poses a serious challenge to conserve chimpanzee in Tanzania

​​​​​​​GOMBE and Mahale National Parks in the Kigoma Region on the shores of Lake Tanganyika are homes to some of Africa’s last remaining wild chimpanzees.

The area was so popular for tourists who were interested to see chimps, but, the outbreak of Covid-19 has affected the wildlife conservation efforts in the conservancy.

Pellagy Marando, head of tourism unit, at Gombe National Park says: “This is due to the fact that the number of tourists has gone since the outbreak of the pandemic; hence the funds to conserve the primates have also gone down.”

For the past six months, he says, the revenue from tourism has dropped for about 80 percent as there are no tourists visiting the conservancy.

“This pose a serious impact to our conservation efforts of chimpanzee and other wild animals,” he says.

Dr Anthony Collins, a Scottish researcher, working with Jane Goodall Institute says Covid-19 remains a challenge to the conservation of chimps. “It important to put in place all health controls to ensure that tourists and even staff have their health being checked and even reducing the number of people getting into chimpanzee habitats,” he suggests.

Isaya Mkude, assistant conservator and leader of wildlife security unit, Gombe National Park points out the difficulties in wildlife protection activities due to the open border of national parks as well as the presence of people encroaching on forests for logging, hunting and agricultural activities in the vicinity and wildlife reserves.

Mkude, who always wears a mask when patrolling or touring, says: “It is easy to control the interaction of people and animals, but poor education for some residents and isolated areas leads to deliberate violations of the law, which can also lead to coronavirus infestation. through people entering the park without following procedures.”

In June 2018, the government established a Tanzania Chimpanzee-Conservation Action Plan after realizing the need to address the threats facing chimpanzees of Tanzania and enhance the long-term conservation of endangered species. In the action plan it was agreed that chimpanzee needs to be protected as they deserve. The plan is designed to make sure that by 2023 the ecological and cultural diversity of Chimpanzees in Tanzania is conserved in viable populations across their range, managing linkage between populations to ensure the maintenance of genetic diversity.

Other threats facing chimps climate change, human activities—poaching, agriculture, and livestock are some of the key factors that put the primates in danger of extinction.

According to Marando, chimpanzees are now facing the threat of extinction due to habitat destruction (natural forests) depletion of the reserve, food shortages as well as diseases.

The official suggests the need for putting in place collective efforts to rescue the primates from disappearing.

According to the expert, the number of chimpanzees has plummeted from an average of 150 chimpanzees in 1980 to 90 in 2020. “This indicates that there is a risk of extinction,” the official said.

Dr Colins who has been in Tanzania for more than 30 years researching chimpanzees notes that the main cause of the decline of chimpanzees is death from communicable diseases, especially the common cold, which is caused by the interaction of animals and humans entering the park for activities such as tourism, animal husbandry, forestry, agriculture, and poaching.

He says that almost one chimp dies every year and that in 1987 nine chimpanzee dies and ten years letter another 9 also dies from cold flu, other diseases and climate change or environmental degradation hence causing hunger to them.

The destruction of food chambers and breeding grounds for chimpanzees has been a major factor leading some chimpanzees to move to informal forests where they rush to find shelter and food, the researcher says.

Poaching is also cited as contributing factors for the decline of chimps in the conservancy.

Conservationists have projected that if left unchecked, chimps in country’s conservancies will completely disappeared in the next ten years.

This is due to the rapid community invasion of the reserve and the destruction of biodiversity by believing that wildlife is endangered in forests as well as rapid increasing human population nearby protected areas.

Environmental degradation caused by human activities is said to be caused by citizens not seeing the value of the existence of forests as well as wildlife. Besides, some locals have come to believe only that animals cannot be extinct and thus be encouraged to involve in illegal hunting and deforestation in national parks.

Deus Makungwa, a resident of Mpanda in Katavi Region suggests the need for the government and other stakeholders to chip in and invest heavily in wildlife conservation.

“There are lots of benefits, we can get from conserving wildlife resources, that’s why we want more efforts to ensure that wild animals are protected for tourism,” he says, urging the government to scale up education on the benefits of conservation of natural resources.

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