Where humans and chimpanzees meet: assessing sympatry throughout Africa using a multi-tiered approach

Principal researcher: Kimberley Hockings

Research group: Environment, Sustainability and Ethnography


Human-wildlife competition and conflict | Chimpanzee behavior | Human-wildlife competition and conflict

Funding Institution

Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT)


Oxford Brookes University



Start date


End date





Other key words: human-wildlife competition and conflict; cross-disciplinary research; chimpanzee behavioural ecology; conflict resolution and mitigation. Natural environments have seen increased competition between species over limited natural resources (Treves 2008; Fuentes & Wolfe 2002). In large measure, this has been due to the exploitation and alteration of wild habitats by expanding human populations. Even endangered, protected and iconic species are increasingly being forced to 'compete' with people for space and food resources, often resulting in conflict between both parties, for example over access to crops and aggressive confrontations (Madden 2004; McLennan 2008; Hockings et al. 2010). Human-wildlife conflict is a critical issue as it compromises biodiversity conservation initiatives and threatens the economic and social security of rural people (Hill et al. 2002). The urgent need to conserve species on the edge of extinction demands sustainable coexistence between people and wildlife in all but the largest and most remote protected areas, and this poses one of the greatest conservation challenges of the 21st Century (Woodroffe et al. 2005). As such, cross-disciplinary approaches are required to inform our understanding of the realities facing both humans and wildlife in anthropogenic habitats, and to assess the sustainability of their relationships (Fuentes & Wolfe 2002). The primary objective of the proposed research is to elucidate the underlying mechanisms that allow coexistence, and to predict and facilitate the continued survival of wildlife in anthropogenic environments. This research uses multi-tiered analyses at individual, community and regional levels to investigate the interactions between humans and their closest living relatives, the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes). Such intelligent species are expected to use their high behavioural and ecological flexibility to exploit and adapt to unpredictable situations (Reader & Laland 2002), including those brought about by human-altered environments (see Figure 1 in attachments). However, the large body size and slow reproductive rates of chimpanzees mean they are particularly vulnerable to the effects of human activities and disturbance (Cowlishaw & Dunbar 2000; Kormos et al. 2003). The proposed project takes a novel approach to studying human-wildlife sympatry and will significantly extend previous work to examine (1) specific behavioural changes in chimpanzees in response to humans and their activities, (2) the sustainability of forest resource exploitation by humans and how it changes chimpanzees' physical environments over time, and (3) how information on human-ape interactions can be computer-modelled to piece together the complex web of factors that affect coexistence and chimpanzee presence in anthropogenic habitats. In collaboration with the IUCN Primate Specialist Group, we will also establish a protocol for human-great ape conflict data collection so that meaningful and longer-term comparisons can be made between sites. Chimpanzees are widely used as a charismatic mega-fauna for conservation (Plumptre et al. 2010), and this work will provide insight into the behavioural and ecological flexibility of this species and their dynamics with neighbouring people. Until we accurately understand the ecological requirements of wildlife species in human-dominated environments, including the aspects of the landscape perceived as too 'risky' to utilize (e.g. due to the risk of hostile encounters with people) and responses to habitat change, it is difficult to predict the success of strategies aimed at minimising conflict with people, and protecting their landscapes and safeguarding suitable habitat. All members of the proposed Portuguese-UK research group have direct research experience in great ape behaviour in anthropogenic habitats throughout Africa (including Uganda, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau; see Figure 2 in attachments) and local people's perceptions and behaviours towards apes, allowing us to address the core questions. The data gathered from this research will specifically inform conservation management practices and policy through the enhancement of dialogue between different stakeholders (e.g. government officials, conservation groups and local people) and by providing na applied mathematical framework for realistically predicting the future prospects of chimpanzee survival in increasingly humandominated environments. If chimpanzees are to continue to live cheek-to-jowl with their human neighbours, cross-disciplinary research that makes data-based assessments and predictions concerning the future of wildlife in anthropogenic habitats is vital.


Full members

Amélia Frazão Moreira

Environment, Sustainability and Ethnography

Full members

Hannah Parathian

Environment, Sustainability and Ethnography

Associated researchers

Joana Bessa

Environment, Sustainability and Ethnography

Matthew McLennan (Oxford Brooks University)