Bernardine France ANOUGUE TONFACK

Concordia University
Ph.D. candidate

Supervisor: Robert Weladji
Start: 2022-09-06
End: 2025-03-31


Primates are one of the most threatened taxa globally (Schipper et al., 2008). The threats to most primate populations including gorillas are increasing, and the survival of many populations and several species is severely questionable (Mittermeier et al., 2013). Gorillas are part of the Hominidae family, which includes the four great apes (gorillas, bonobos, chimpanzees, and orangutans) and humans (De Waal, 2005). As such, they are species that are closest to humans, in terms of genetics and bodily structure, and with which we can be easily identified (Vannucchi, 2017). In social animals, genetic relatedness and social interactions among members of a group influence the way in which genetic variation is structured within and between populations (Nidifer and Cortès, 2015). Most primates show a variety of adaptive behaviors in response to perceived risks associated with anthropogenic environments (Hockings et al., 2015), many of which have been likened to predator avoidance strategies (Hockings et al., 2006). Moreover, strong seasonal and inter-annual variations affect most great apes’ food availability (Knott, 2005). Food availability and plant species richness in tropical forests is major drivers of vertebrate richness and density (Stevenson, 2001; Marshall and Leighton, 2006. Nonetheless, frugivorous animals respond to periods of fruit scarcity by changing their dietary composition and/or ranging patterns (Terborgh, 1986; Remis, 1997; Yamagiwa and Basabose, 2006 Ecotourism and research in Cameroon have thus been widely promoted as the means of providing alternative value for apes and their habitats through habituation (Takenoshita 2015; Köndgen et al., 2008). Habituation is thus the process by which animals become accustomed to human presence and eventually accept a human observer as a neutral element in their environment (Doran et al; 2007; Williamson and Fawcett, 2008). It has become a popular tool for biodiversity conservation and local community development (Greening, 2014). Much research has been carried out on the well-known mountain gorillas (Watts, 1996; reviewed in Doran and McNeilage, 1998, 2001), but only recently research studies have been carried out on WLGs’ feeding ecology in relation to seasons (Remis et al., 2001), habituation behavioral response (Blom and Cipolleta, 2004); activity budget (Masi et al., 2009;) and feeding ecology (Masi et al. 2015; Masi and Breuer, 2018. However, these researches have been mainly carried out in the Sangha -Trinational Park (The Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon), and little is known about other populations of WLGs. In addition, in Campo Ma’an National Park, the WLG population lives in a geographically isolated area, Dipikar Island (A piece of land surrounded by two streams: the Ntem river in the South and the Bongola river in the North), which renders this population particularly interesting to study. Thus, to be able to better preserve this species, this study will focus on: the impact of geographical isolation on the inbreeding degree of the population; their behavior in terms of activity budget; diet choice (phenology) and habitat use; and the stakeholders’ perception. Understanding the ecological factors that influence the presence, abundance, and distribution of species within their habitats is critical for ensuring their long-term conservation (Camaratta et al., 2017). This has led to the main research question: How can western lowland gorilla habituation support wildlife, habitat, and livelihood conservation for local communities around the Campo Ma’an National Park? The main objective of this study is to contribute to the sustainable management of the habituated gorilla group by determining the existing relationship between them and their habitat in order to improve the conservation strategy of this species, especially in Campo Ma'an National Park.