Times are tough for chimpanzees. We humans are eating our close cousins into extinction. The U.K. Guardian recently reported on an 18-month study conducted in the Democratic Republic of Congo which found that chimps are facing a “wave of killing” by bushmeat hunters.

One of the researchers, Dr. Cleve Hicks of the University of Amsterdam, said he “was actually astonished to see the sheer quantities of bushmeat being taken out of the forest … It was really shocking.” Dr. Hicks believes about 440 chimpanzees are slaughtered in the region every year. “The increasing level of the bushmeat trade in this region is truly alarming,” said Alice Macharia of the Jane Goodall Institute.

Some chimps, fortunately, are learning to outwit the human hunters intent on consuming their flesh.

Hunters frequently use snares to trap bushmeat. A typical snare has of a loop of iron wire connected by a vine rope to an arched stick, often a young sapling. The stick puts tension into the rope and once an animal passes through the wire loop, the trap is sprung and the sapling pulls it tight around the animal’s neck or leg. According to the BBC, researchers have discovered that some chimps living in the rainforests of Guinea have learned to recognize, and even deactivate, the snares.

“We were surprised when we found this behaviour,” said researcher Gaku Ohashi, a primatologist. “This is the first report of chimpanzees breaking snares without injury.” Observers saw the chimps use a variety of methods to render the snares useless. Mostly, they would grasp the stick portion of the snare and shake it until it broke. They always avoided the most dangerous part of the trap — the wire loop.

Alas, it is not enough for one group of chimps in one part of Africa to learn how to outwit human predators. Chimpanzees remain in danger, not only from people who want to consume them, but by the continued deforestation that is destroying their homes. And humans don’t only rely on snares: In any given year, 2,000 bushmeat hunters will illegally shoot over 4,000 chimps.

While I love the idea of chimps doing what they can to save themselves, to really save the chimpanzees, they will require the work and efforts of a closely related primate species … homo sapiens.

Photo Credit: Matthew Hoelscher

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