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Group Release of Sanctuary Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in the Haut Niger National Park, Guinea, West Africa: Ranging Patterns and Lessons So Far

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Abstract

The release of wild or captive-bred mammals within their historical ranges typically aims to reestablish populations in areas where they have become extinct or extirpated, to reinforce natural populations, or to resolve human–wildlife conflicts. Such programs, which also typically in parallel help foster the protection of the release site, concern a wide range of endangered mammalian species, including our closest living relatives: chimpanzees. In June 2008, the Chimpanzee Conservation Center (CCC), which is located in the High Niger National Park (HNNP) in Guinea, released a group of 12 chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) comprised of 6 females and 6 males (8–20 yr old). The selected release site lies 32 km from the sanctuary in the Mafou, a core area of HNNP where wild chimpanzees are also known to occur. The purpose of this release was therefore to reinforce the natural chimpanzee population within the Mafou core area and to promote the protection of the HNNP. Nearly 2 yr postrelease, 9 chimpanzees still remain free-living. Two thirds of the release chimpanzees were equipped with VHF-GPS store-on-board tracking collars. We used data from retrieved collars to explore the release chimpanzees’ habitat use, individual day range, and core area use (50% and 80%) during the first year of the release. Males traveled significantly further than females. Although minimum day range did not differ between the sexes or vary seasonally, some release males were active for longer during the day than the females. Males also ranged over larger areas and used a wider network of core areas than the females. Habitat use was similar to that recorded in wild chimpanzees in the HNNP. As of September 2010, 2 males and 3 females form a group at the release site. Two of these females gave birth to healthy offspring respectively 16 and 20 mo postrelease. Another female successfully immigrated into a wild chimpanzee community. We suggest that the success of this chimpanzee release can be attributed to the CCC’s lengthy rehabilitation process and the savanna-mosaic habitat of the HNNP. This release demonstrates that under special socioecological circumstances, the release of wild-born adult chimpanzees of both sexes is a viable strategy, which can also function as an effective conservation tool.

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Acknowledgments

This study was conducted through the Chimpanzee Conservation Centre (CCC) with the assistance of CCC expatriate and local staff, as well as volunteers from Projet Primates France (PPF) and Project Primate Inc. (PPI), with financial support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFW) and Fauna and Flora International (FFI). The CCC also thanks Dr. Andrew Rowan and Dr. Geza Teleki for their advice and the Arcus Foundation, the Edith J. Goode Trust fund, the Fondation Brigitte Bardot, Fondation Le Pal Nature, IPPL-UK, IPPL-US, and the Tusk foundation for their financial support. We also thank Dr. Henk Niphuis at the Biomedical Primate Research Centre, Rijswijk, the Netherlands, for all the testing of serological samples; Dr. Wendi Bailey at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, UK, for her parasitological expertise; Planet Action for donating high-resolution satellite maps of HNNP and ArcGIS; Telonics for providing us with extra necessary software; and CLS (Collecte Localisation Satellites, Toulouse, France) and Dr. Scott Wilson from Chester Zoo, UK, for their logistical support. We also thank the 2 anonymous reviewers who have provided us with helpful comments and suggestions for improving this manuscript. Estelle Raballand is also deeply grateful to PASA for advice and help during the entire release process and the workshop hosted at Apenheul, the Netherlands, which led to the creation of a CCC-release working group (thank you to Dr. Marc Ancrenaz, Dr. Benoit Goossens, Mike Jordan, Frands Carlsen, Norm Rosen, and Dr. Benjamin Beck). We also thank Christine Sagno, director of the Direction Nationale des Eaux et Forêts, Mr. Aboubacar Oulare, director of the Direction Nationale de la Diversité Biologique et des Aires Protégées and the late Aliomou Diallo, Director of the HNNP. Dr. Tatyana Humle, as scientific advisor to the CCC, also thanks Dr. Mamby Keita, national director of the Direction Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique et Technologique and Mr. Aboubacar Oulare, national director of the Direction de la Diversité Biologique et des Aires Protégées, for granting permission to conduct research in the Haut Niger National Park (HNNP).

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Humle, T., Colin, C., Laurans, M. et al. Group Release of Sanctuary Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in the Haut Niger National Park, Guinea, West Africa: Ranging Patterns and Lessons So Far. Int J Primatol 32, 456–473 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10764-010-9482-7

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