National Geographic : 2010 Feb
pushes groups into conflict or decreases the number of termite mounds where they can sh. Morgan and Sanz have put forth a powerful hypothesis: With fewer mounds and, therefore, fewer opportunities for young chimps to learn tool techniques from their elders, chimp culture may slowly attenuate, and complex learned be- haviors may disappear. e pair will soon have an opportunity to test their hypothesis. In the next few years, CIB will probably begin logging operations in a sector of forest just east of the Goualougo River dubbed Zone C. In anticipa- tion, the research team has been conducting rig- orous line-transect studies in Zone C since 2002 in order to get a clear before-and-a er picture of how logging a ects chimp behavior. Zone D, an area west of the triangle that CIB began logging ve years ago, o ers a preview of what might happen in Zone C. " is was beau- tiful forest in 2004," says Morgan dolefully, as we step from our pirogues onto the dry land of Zone D. It is clear that we've entered an entirely di erent environment. We cross muddy log- ging road a er muddy logging road, some as wide as a two-lane boulevard, lined with up- turned roots and rotting o cuts. CIB's logging operation meets the logging industry's most demanding standards for sus- tainability and environmental responsibility. " ey're the best logging company in central Africa," says Paul Telfer, head of the WCS Con- go program. "I'd prefer no logging at all, but if you're going to have a logging company next to a park, you'd want it to be CIB." Still, the landscape has been selectively rav- aged, and the chimps are nowhere to be found. Just six years ago, the apes that Morgan and Sanz found in Zone D were mostly naive. Now when they catch wind of humans, they hide or ee. ey've learned to fear us. M 400-odd chimps that Morgan and Sanz have encountered in the Goualougo no longer display the same sense of curiosity they once did. e more time the researchers spend there, and the more they demystify the wonders of this primal forest, the rarer their naive encounters have become. To study and conserve these chimps inevitably means changing them. Yet the triangle is just one small corner of a vast, virtually unexplored forest. Before leaving the Goualougo, I trek out to its very southern tip with Morgan and Sanz to spend two nights camping in the home range of the Mayele com- munity, near the juncture of the Goualougo and Ndoki Rivers. Here, in a part of the forest that Morgan and Sanz only occasionally visit, we en- counter a naive chimp. As soon as he sees us, he begins screaming hysterically, ducking between branches to get a better look. Morgan puts down his backpack and quietly pulls out a spotting scope, the kind that a hunter might use to pick o a deer from 300 yards, and uses it to get a closer look. " at chimpanzee has never seen a human before," he tells me. e young male whips a liana around vio- lently in a display of youthful bluster, then hurls a few sticks in our direction to see how we'll re- spond. Before long, his calls attract others, and a total of seven chimps join him on the limbs above us, all raptly watching the hairless, up- right apes on the forest oor. We might as well be from outer space. Cautiously, and without averting their gazes, the chimps inch ever nearer to us until nal- ly the youngest one is sitting on a branch not ten yards away. Sanz hands us each a surgical mask---to protect the chimp, not us. "Talk about maladaptive behavior," Morgan whispers, with a chuckle. We back o a bit and spend the next several hours with our eyes locked on theirs: Us watching them watch us watch them. Eventually we have to move on. ere's more forest to explore, more chimps to nd. Our curiosity gives out before theirs does. j What if other scientists observ- ing chimps have actually been studying behavior distorted by the presence of humans? n Society Grant This project was funded in part by your National Geographic Society membership.