UNIVERSITY OF DSCHANG, CAMEROON
Research focus: ecology and evolutionary biology, conservation of biodiversity
The western lowland gorilla and Nigerian chimpanzee are between Central Africa's critically endangered species and are a key species for conservation of their natural habitat. In the past, Ernest studied the behavioural ecology of a western lowland gorilla group under habituation to human presence for ecotourism in Campo’o Ma’an National Park. Now, he is studying feeding ecology of Nigerian chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes ellioti) in Mpem and Djim National Park (MNDP) and his main interest lies in the feeding and nesting habits of this apes within their home range in MNDP.
We know very little about the most endangered subspecies of chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes ellioti commonly called the Nigerian chimpanzee, due to its recent classification and lack of research in their range: Nigeria and Cameroon. The goal of Ernest‘s project is to assess a community of these chimpanzees living in a forest-savanna environment in Central Cameroon in the Mpem and Djim National Park (MDNP) that has not been previously studied. This assessment will ultimately examine the chimpanzee population demographics, density, and ranging patterns, human activity in and around the chimpanzee habitat as well as determine the possible impact of competitors, predators, and human encroachment and poaching. Additionally, the data will help investigators ascertain the viability of the area as a long-term research site and deciding to continue ecological methods or also incorporating habituation of chimpanzees for behavioral data collection for the future. The use of video camera traps will not only provide the above information, but also allow for observation of social behaviors, such as termite fishing and grooming, that may aid in understanding this subspecies more than previous research. Ernest’s research aims to help Cameroon’s wildlife authorities to better monitor and protect the country’s critically endangered chimpanzee as well as to develop sustainable strategies for management of this area and to save a viable population of chimpanzees in their natural environment.
The jury was impressed by Ernest’s publications and by his research supporting the conservation of a threatened key species. Apart from his research, he is involved with NGOs and plans to support young Cameroonians interested in conservation of biodiversity and wildlife.