Last week I had the good fortune to attend a presentation by David Morgan, co-director of the extraordinary Goualougo Triangle Ape Project in the Republic of Congo. I learned so much it was hard to form a concise post about the experience!
Mr. Morgan, his wife Crickette Sanz, and their research team reside in the Goualougo Triangle area and through a process of habituation have been able to gain the trust of the gorillas and chimpanzees in the region. They live as neighbors to the primate groups, and as a result they are able to gain access to the animals in ways that have rarely been possible before.
While not disturbing the animals, the group observes them up close in order to learn the ins and outs of their complex social and familial bonds, as well as their health and behavioral issues. Due to this closeness, Mr. Morgan is able to share fascinating stories about the lives of these fantastic animals.
My favorite story was about young gorillas and young chimpanzees who want to play together in the forest they share. For years the researchers assumed the two groups avoided each other. But then they discovered babies of both groups trying to play together. Unfortunately their mothers would have none of it! Still, the young chimpanzees observe the gorillas enough to mimic the famous chest beating of the males for fun. I doubt the chimpanzee mothers are pleased with this game.
The stories were fun, but the real work of the Goualougo project is conservation and research aimed at saving the primates and their habitat. The long-term survival of the apes is at risk due to commercial logging, emerging diseases, and the bushmeat trade.
To meet these challenges, Mr. Morgan and the rest of the team work closely with the Congolese government, as well as local university students, wildlife biologists, and international wildlife conservation organizations. Through this process of collaboration, built on a platform of mutual respect, the project aims to ensure the survival of these spectacular great apes in their native habitat.
Want to help? Here are several ways to get involved: