33 years of the Taï Chimpanzee Project
October 5 -13, 2012 – Abidjan, Côte d´Ivoire
In 1976, having read reports of the little known behaviour of wild chimpanzees cracking nuts, but lacking any eyewitness reports, Prof. Christophe Boesch and his wife Hedwige Boesch left for their first expedition to the Taï forest in Côte d’Ivoire. This adventure was proposed by the late Professor François Bourlière, and extensive support for what would become a long term study was guaranteed by Professor Hans Kummer and Professor André Aeschlimann. All three of them were excited by the idea and provided invaluable encouragement.
Fortunately, it did not take long before Christophe and Hedwige were able to observe a chimpanzee pounding nuts with a stone in the middle of Taï National Park. Furthermore, when Christophe was able to observe a group of chimpanzees capturing a red colobus monkey, he realized the immense potential of launching a long term research project with the Taï chimpanzees. The value of this project was strengthened by the fact that no research on chimpanzees had yet been conducted in the dense and humid tropical forest habitat.
During the last 33 years, research at the Taï Chimpanzee Project (TCP) has never stopped. Even during the political crisis in Ivory Coast beginning in 2002 when many other national and international projects shut down their operations, the TCP went on with the daily observations of chimpanzees and data collection. The survival of this project during these difficult times was possible only thanks to the commitment of research students and the local assistants.
Following decades of studying wild chimpanzees in the Taï forest and due to the dramatic decline of chimpanzee populations across Africa caused by deforestation and poaching, Professor Boesch founded the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCF) in 2000. Across Africa, the number of chimpanzees has declined by more than 70% during the last thirty years, from 600,000 to less than 200.000 individuals. The West African chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes verus, is one of the two most threatened chimpanzee sub-species. Shockingly, in Côte d’Ivoire, the results of the last survey revealed that the number of chimpanzees has declined by 86-99% over the last 17 years.
The aim of WCF is to protect the last remaining wild chimpanzees in Africa, with a special focus on the declining populations in West Africa. The activities are based on the philosophy of “Conservation-Education-Research” and stress the involvement of the people living near protected areas in conservation efforts. School projects in Europe and West-Africa are also included. A recently developed “Pan-African monitoring project” has the goal of ensuring the species’ long-term survival throughout their tropical forest habitat.
The celebration of 33 years of the Taï chimpanzee project is an excellent opportunity to emphasize the importance of the precious natural heritage to the Ivorian people, to present the research conducted by the TCP during the last 33 years and to raise public awareness of the urgent need to promote the conservation of chimpanzees and their forested habitat in Côte d’Ivoire.