By Lilian Pintea Chimpanzees, our closet living relatives, depend on forests. The greatest concentrations of chimpanzees are found in rainforests across the equatorial forest belt in Africa — habitat that is rapidly diminishing as forests are cleared for agriculture and infrastructure. This is a story about how technology and a new partnership are working to understand threats to forests so we can better protect chimpanzees. The Jane Goodall Institute is an international conservation organization whose 30-year mission focus is to protect 85 percent of chimpanzees and their habitats in Africa. This goal can only be achieved by working with partners and leveraging resources such as geospatial technologies to scale up our conservation impact. The recent launch of the Global Forest Watch (GFW) platform is a significant step forward in that direction: towards providing globally-consistent yet locally-relevant data on the world’s forests – data that will support the Jane Goodall Institute’s ongoing conservation priorities. Global Forest Watch is a dynamic online forest monitoring and alert system, created by the World Resources Institute and over 40 partners, that empowers people everywhere to better manage forests. Equipped with the latest information from GFW, governments, businesses and communities can halt forest loss and protect critical habitat for many of the world’s most important species, including chimpanzees. For this reason, the Jane Goodall Institute is proud to be a core partner and early supporter for GFW, a tool that will cultivate common understanding of the condition of chimpanzee habitats at finer spatial and temporal resolutions across the entire chimpanzee range in Africa. Chimpanzees live in a variety of vegetation types in Africa, from dry savanna woodlands and woodland-forest mosaics to humid-canopy rain forests. However, habitat loss poses one of the most significant threats to chimpanzee survival across their entire range. Forests and woodlands are destroyed at an increasing rate due to logging, charcoal production, and conversion of forested lands into agricultural lands, plantations, settlements and infrastructure. Monitoring the health of chimpanzee habitat is one of the key conservation science strategies of the Jane Goodall Institute. Satellite observations offer a synoptic view of chimpanzee habitats across Africa, strengthening our ability to monitor environmental change. Since 2000, the Jane Goodall Institute has been at the forefront of exploring how satellite imagery – from 30-meter Landsat to 60-centimeter QuickBird sensors – can be used to assess the status and trends of chimpanzee habitats and human land use change. We then use this up-to-date information to engage local communities and inform decision-makers in Tanzania, Uganda, Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Through our years of experience working on the ground, with local communities, governments, academia, private sector, donors and other NGOs, we understand the opportunities and barriers to the effective use of satellite-derived information. We are continuously searching for innovative ways to bring such valuable information into the hands of decision makers. GFW represents a ground-breaking advance in democratizing satellite information by putting this real-time data into the hands of all. For example, GFW visualizes annual tree cover loss and gain data, produced by the University of Maryland and Google, at a 30-meter resolution. The Jane Goodall Institute used this data to calculate that 2.4% of forests within chimpanzee ranges have been destroyed in Africa over the past 12 years. (2000-2012). This area is 5,411,732 hectares, equivalent to 2,000 soccer fields of forests lost each day. From this same dataset, it is clear that the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote D’Ivoire and Cameroon rank as the top three countries in total of forest loss, and as a consequence, in the potential number of chimpanzees impacted. Cote D’Ivoire also leads in percentage of tree cover loss, a figure that is consistent with reports from the field. Cameroon faces rapid oil palm plantation developments, which is threatening natural forests, chimp habitats and survival.
Global Forest Watch allows us to easily draw on a trove of forest-related data to better target our conservation initiatives. The power to put improved forest information into action is why the Jane Goodall Institute has been an early partner and supporter of GFW. In the next series of blogs, I would like to share few examples of how the data and the vision behind the platform are transforming our joint conservation efforts in Africa.