Thieving chimps alter farming practices

Trinity College students have discovered thieving chimpanzees are changing the way farmers make a living in Africa by causing them to grow different crops and spend more time guarding their goods.

Crop raiding by light- fingered and industrious chimps, means hundreds of thousands of marginalised farmers are losing edible crops to damage each year. As a result, farmers are reducing their cultivation of maize, beans, and other staples — which are highly prized by raiding species.

In addition, by guarding their crops during the night, farmers are increasingly exposed to malaria carried by mosquitoes and soil-based worms which cause elephantiasis.

The research by Trinity College Dublin’s School of Geography ultimately found that communities near the edge of tropical forests are experiencing a lack of “dietary diversity” and an increased exposure to disease-carrying insects as a result of the actions of chimpanzees stealing their crops.

Despite the positive actions taken by farmers working around the Gishwati Forest fragment in western Rwanda, the shifts in farming practice are having a cumulative, negative effect on their communities.

The damage might be minor on each occasion, but the losses soon add up, and an increased risk of disease is a huge problem.

Shane McGuinness, lead author on the research and a PhD student in Geography at Trinity, said the chimps were imposing a form “natural tax on farmers growing crops near the nutrient-rich soils of the forest”.

Work is now being finalised on a larger project around the Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda.

Mr McGuinness is assessing the impacts of mountain gorilla, buffalo, and golden monkey on the conservation of this park and the development of surrounding human communities.

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