Chimpanzee Subspecies: Eastern chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii)

Known Range: Tanzania, alongside parts of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

IUCN Red List classification: Endangered


From the stunning shores of Lake Tanganyika to the bustling lake ports and the remarkable Livingstone Memorial Museum, the narrative of the Kigoma region in northwestern Tanzania is genuinely captivating.

But for conservation enthusiasts, this region’s tale is incomplete without highlighting Mahale and Gombe National Parks, where chimpanzees reside alongside other captivating tourist destinations.

A chimpanzee rests in Gombe National Park. Captured by Prosper Kwigize.

The subgroup of chimpanzees found in Tanzania is known as the Eastern chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii). This subspecies is primarily distributed in Tanzania, alongside parts of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The IUCN Red List classification for the Eastern chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) is Endangered.

According to wildlife conservation authorities, Tanzania is home to an estimated 2,500 Eastern chimpanzees, with the majority residing in Mahale and Gombe National Parks in the Kigoma region. Additional populations can be found in the Nkondwe forests of the Katavi region and a small number on Rubondo Island in the Geita region.

However, the chimpanzee population in Gombe has been declining in recent years due to various factors, including diseases, human-wildlife conflicts, and climate change. Statistics reveal that 1980 Gombe was home to 300 chimpanzees, but today, that number has plummeted to just 90. This decline is a significant concern for conservationists like Sila Mbise.

Mbise attributes the decline in the Gombe chimpanzee population to factors such as disease outbreaks and competition for limited resources within the reserve. Additionally, the fragmentation of clans has led to increased hostility among these highly social animals, whose behavior closely resembles that of humans.

As climate change fragments and degrades habitats for both humans and chimpanzees, the two species are encountering each other more frequently as they seek food and resources. Consequently, conflicts with local communities are escalating, with some perceiving chimpanzees as nuisances or hazards to their agricultural yields and livestock. This perception often culminates in retaliatory killings or habitat destruction.

Additionally, certain diseases affecting chimpanzees, such as severe flu, are thought to be associated with climate change and the heightened interactions between humans and chimpanzees due to human encroachment into conservation areas.

In Gombe National Park, a chimpanzee finds respite on a tree. Photographed by Prosper Kwigize.

Decimated habitats

Climate change is exerting a profound influence on wildlife worldwide. With rising temperatures, shifting weather patterns, and changing habitats, many species are encountering unprecedented challenges to their survival, caution scientists.

According to experts, the ramifications of climate change on wildlife are extensive and intricate, affecting various aspects, from migration routes to food availability and reproductive success.

Among the most significant impacts of climate change on wildlife is the loss and fragmentation of habitats.

Increasing temperatures and alterations in precipitation patterns are reshaping ecosystems surrounding Gombe and Mahale National Parks, resulting in the degradation of crucial habitats for chimpanzees.

As these habitats diminish or vanish entirely, wildlife populations must adapt or face extinction risk.

Scientists have consistently emphasized the impact of climate change on wildlife food sources. For instance, fluctuations in temperature and precipitation influence the timing of plant growth, thereby affecting the availability of fruits, nuts, and other resources for herbivores. This disruption cascades throughout the food chain, affecting predators reliant on these herbivores for sustenance.

As habitats evolve and species adapt, competition for resources intensifies, sometimes leading to conflicts between previously coexisting species.

Mbise explains that alterations in predator-prey dynamics disturb ecosystems, resulting in population declines or even extinctions.

He emphasizes that climate change is impacting the availability and distribution of the fruits, leaves, and other plant parts essential for chimpanzees’ diet. This, he stresses, leads to disturbances in their feeding patterns and nutritional intake due to alterations in fruiting seasons or plant species abundance, potentially resulting in malnutrition and diminished reproductive success.

In Gombe National Park, a chimpanzee feasts on ants from a tree trunk. Captured by Prosper Kwigize.

Community involvement in conservation can make all the difference

Population growth and the encroachment on wildlife habitats have escalated human-wildlife conflicts and contributed to the mortality and near-extinction of wild species such as chimpanzees in Gombe.

Tanzania’s Kigoma region stands out among the seven regions experiencing significant population growth in Tanzania. According to the National Bureau of Statistics in Tanzania (NBS) census data, the region’s population surged from 856,770 people in 1988 to 2,470,967 people in 2022.

Community leaders from villages such as Bugamba and Mwamgongo, neighboring Gombe, acknowledge the existence of negative community practices and attitudes toward conservation. Nevertheless, efforts to reverse this trend are already underway.

“In the past, we didn’t perceive the direct benefits of having these conservation areas. People viewed them as government-owned, with benefits going to foreigners. This hindered efforts to mobilize citizens against illegal activities like deforestation, charcoal burning, and hunting in these areas,” explains Hamim Masoud, the chairman of Mwamgongo village.

He however says that, today, as a result of, “community sensitization initiatives led by the Tanzania National Parks Authority,” communities have gained a deeper understanding of the benefits of preserving apes and wildlife.

Hamim explains that their villages have reaped benefits from various projects, including the construction of schools, clinics, and employment opportunities for young people with diverse skills.

In Gombe National Park, a chimpanzee carries its offspring on its back. Photographed by Prosper Kwigize.

Dr. Nicolaus Zacharia, the Director of the Tanganyika Development Relief Organization (TADERO), an organization engaged in education, agribusiness, and environmental conservation, emphasizes the significance of community sensitization and involvement in raising awareness about the benefits of co-existing with wildlife.

He asserts that communities should be engaged in the design and implementation of every conservation-related project.

In Kigoma, conservation authorities are currently implementing the Community Relations Program, also known as Good Neighborhoods, to promote chimpanzee protection. This program includes providing subsidies to communities and establishing development projects for their benefit.

“This approach has yielded positive results compared to previously employed non-participatory protection methods. Conservation initiatives now actively involve local governments and communities,” notes Nelson Mcharo, a conservationist from the Community Relations Unit at Gombe National Park.

Mcharo also emphasizes the execution of several projects valued at One billion Tanzanian shillings through the Good Neighborhoods program.

These initiatives encompass the provision of eco-friendly fishing gear, the planting of environmentally sustainable trees, the construction of a girls’ hostel at Bugamba Secondary School, the establishment of classrooms at Mwamgongo Primary School, and the creation of job opportunities for around 60 young individuals across various departments within the park.

This story was produced with support from Apes Reporting Project (ARP). ARP is a project of Water Journalists Africa, which also runs InfoNile, a geojournalism project.

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