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Endangered chimps and forest elephants found in rainforest to be logged for palm oil

A biological survey of forests slated for destruction for a palm oil project in Cameroon has uncovered 23 species of large mammals, including the world’s most endangered chimpanzee subspecies, the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes ellioti). The project in question, operated by U.S.-based company Herakles Farms, has come under stiff criticism both locally and abroad for threatening one of Africa’s most biologically rich forest lands and arguably undercutting local peoples’ access to traditional lands.

“These results show clearly that the planned concession area is of high conservation value. They also show that previous surveys were insufficient to establish adequate information on large mammal presence,” a survey report reads. These intensive surveys–supported by Save Wildlife Conservation Fund, Greenpeace, WWF, and Dschang University–have also found evidence of chimp nests in the concession area.

“Some parts could even act as a chimp sanctuary,” notes Kadiri Serge Bobo with Dschang University.

Only around 3,500 Nigeria-Cameroon chimps are believed to be found in the wild.

In addition to chimpanzees, surveyors also found forest elephants, which have decimated across their range by poachers; drill monkeys (Mandrillus leucophaeus), listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List; Preuss’s red colobus monkey (Procolobus preussi), considered Critically Endangered; and red-capped mangabey (Cercocebus torquatus), considered Vulnerable. Surveyors also recorded four different duiker species.

Chimpanzee hanging in a tree, Mefou, National Park, Cameroon. Photo by: Greeenpeace/Filip Verbelen.

The survey also looked at freshwater fish in the region and found a number of rare species, including one that may be entirely new to science. A bird survey of the area is still ongoing.

Herkales Farms currently plans to build a 70,000 hectare palm oil plantation in the forest, which abuts four protected areas, including Korup National Park. In the past the company has claimed that it will be proactive on environmental concerns, including not cutting high conservation value forest (HCVF) and working with the local community to undercut the current bushmeat trade in the region. However, with more evidence it appears that much of the area in question is actually high conservation value. Conservationists also point to the fact that in Southeast Asia palm oil plantations have worsened poaching, not lessened it. In addition, aerial surveys have revealed that 89 percent of Herkales Farms’ concession is in forest areas.

The company has also come into conflict with local communities, which are reportedly split on whether or not the company will make good on promises to improve life in an extremely poor region. However, many locals have expressed concern over handing over traditional lands to a foreign company with a 99-year lease. Protests against Herakles have led to several arrests and claims of beatings and activists being held without charges.

In 2012, Herkales Farms abandoned seeking certification from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which provides guidelines for sustainable palm oil production, after several NGOs lodged complaints.

“The US government has invested heavily in the conservation of the endangered [Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee] one of our closest relatives,” said Rolf Skar, Forests Campaign Director with Greenpeace. “It is therefore both ironic and tragic that Herakles Farms, an American company, is set to bulldoze forest that’s critical to the survival of these chimpanzees.”

Image of a nest made by a chimpanzee in the Nguti forest near New Konye. Recent field research carried out by Greenpeace also found evidence of chimpanzee nests, including this one, in the proposed Herakles Farm plantation zone. Photo: © Greenpeace/Jan-Jospeh Stok.

Forest and river in Herakles’ concession area. Photo: © Greenpeace/Alex Yallop.

Red Capped Mangabeys in forest, Mefou National Park, Cameroon. Photo: © Greenpeace/Filip Verbelen.

A man wears a t-shirt protesting against Herakles Farms plans to create a large palm oil plantation in Southwest Region, Cameroon. The shirt reads ‘No Plantation on Our Land, Herakles Farms (SGSOC) Out!’ Photo: © Greenpeace/Jean-Pierre Kepseu.

Oil palm nursery in a Herakles Farm’s concession area. Last year Herakles Farms said it had permission to set up three nurseries covering 100 hectares even before producing a Social and Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA). Photo: © Greenpeace/Alex Yallop.

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