CSI Cameroon: Genetic Detective Work Helps Stop Chimp Smuggling in Africa
Photo via Gulf News
Chimpanzees in western Africa have decreased by 75% in the last three decades, a surge in chimp hunting has been partly to blame. It's being recognized as a full fledged chimp smuggling crisis in Cameroon. A chimpanzee sold on the US black market can garner up to $20,000, and $100 when first sold in Cameroon. So, to help determine where the smuggling was taking place, researchers from set out to compare genetic sequences of chimps rescued in the US with their wild counterparts.Scientists from the University of Albany teamed up with the Limbe Wildlife Centre in Cameroon to determine the precise locations of the abducted chimps--to see if they could tell whether there were hunting 'hot spots', or if the smuggling was a widespread problem. To accomplish this, they used high tech computer programs to analyze the genetic sequences, and to create maps of where chimps recovered from the black market in the US originated.
Lead scientist Mary Katherine Gonder said, "The data that we collected were put into a sophisticated computer program that mapped out the origins of the rescued chimpanzees. We found that all the rescued chimps were from Cameroon, implying that international smuggling is less of a problem than local trade. Worryingly though, the problem seems to occur throughout Cameroon, with some rescued chimps even coming from protected areas."Bring a certain TV suspense/drama to mind for anyone else? No?
Anyhow, this modeling has been particularly useful, and not only in locating chimps. The chimpanzees are often captured while hunters are poaching other animals--many of which are endangered and off limits as well. So locating the chimps successfully could help put an end to systematic, devastating poaching operations.
And any improvement would be more than welcome--right now, 10 chimps are killed for every one that's rescued. If this operation is met with success, it could help restore chimpanzee populations in a meaningful way.