Jane Goodall Uses Tang Prize Grant to Study Endangered Chimpanzees in Senegal

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Dr. Jane Goodall, recipient of the 2020 Tang Prize in Sustainable Development, utilized the research grant from the Tang Prize to commission the Jane Goodall Institute in Spain (JGI Spain) for a research project on the critically endangered subspecies of chimpanzees known as Western Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) in the southeastern region of Senegal. This project, known as the "Wild Chimpanzee Conservation and Research in South-east Senegal" was being conducted from 2021 to 2023.


Recently, the project has yielded exciting results, with the presentation of seven reports at three international primatology conferences. These reports include groundbreaking findings, such as the discovery that Western Chimpanzees in the Dindefelo Community Natural Reserve (DCNR) area would repeatedly pound the fruits of baobab trees against tree trunks, stones, or rocks to get the flesh and seeds for consumption, shedding light on the origins of tool usage in primates, including humans.


Observations also revealed that chimpanzees that favored army ants for food would use thicker tree branches to drill into termite mounds to fish for ants, and that they preferred lianas and used plant species for tool manufacturing. Chimpanzees would also use branches as seats to avoid ant bites, and they were capable of detecting ant groups through visual, olfactory, and gustatory cues. Furthermore, the research found that of the 26 species used for nest making by chimpanzees, only seven accounted for 72% of all their nests. This discovery holds significance for designing conservation strategies for chimpanzees in the region.


Another noteworthy finding is that female chimpanzees used caves in the Guinea savanna as nurseries for their infants, allowing them to rest and regain the energy expended during nursing. This provides insights into how chimpanzees adapt to the extreme heat of the dry season in the African savanna.


Through expanding monitoring areas, the research team also identified potential ecological corridors for chimpanzees between Senegal and Guinea. Additionally, they made an unexpected observation of the reappearance of the West African King colobus, which was previously considered extinct in Senegal. These research data and findings provide invaluable and useful information for understanding the ecology of Western Chimpanzees and making conservation decisions in the region.


Western Chimpanzees are classified as "critically endangered" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, with an estimated population of about 35,000 to 55,000 living in the wild, including approximately 2,600 in Senegal. The purpose of this Tang Prize research project was to advance the conservation and research of Western Chimpanzees in the DCNR in the southeastern region of Senegal. This was achieved through direct observations by field assistants and the collection of indirect evidence, supplemented by biometric monitoring methods like camera traps to assess the distribution and behavioral ecology of chimpanzees, and evaluate human threats within the protected area. The project also involved training local personnel in the use of new technologies, enhancing their scientific literacy and building local technological capabilities.


The research team used specialized software to collect field data and conduct analyses. Over two years, they covered a total distance of 13,984 kilometers, spent 9,876 hours in monitoring, recorded 709 direct observations of chimpanzees, and collected 2,157 pieces of indirect evidence about chimpanzee behavior. Additionally, 25 camera traps captured a total of 71,278 video segments, with 4,419 of them capturing chimpanzee activities, 42,986 documenting the activities of other fauna, and some recording human activities such as hunting and herding. The camera traps proved effective in detecting illegal activities and providing information about human-chimpanzee interactions in the DCNR natural reserve area.


Dr. Jane Goodall, Dame of British Empire, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, and a UN Messenger of Peace, was awarded the 2020 Tang Prize in Sustainable Development “for her groundbreaking discovery in primatology that redefines human-animal relationship and for her lifelong unparalleled dedication to the conversation of Earth environment.” She laid a strong foundation for the advancement of sustainable development worldwide. She received a cash prize of NT$40 million (approx. US$1.40 million), including 10 million (approx. US$0.35 million) that can be used to support her research and education initiatives.


About the Tang Prize

With the advent of globalization, mankind has been able to enjoy the convenience brought forth by the advancement of human civilization and science. Yet a multitude of challenges, such as climate change, the emergence of new infectious diseases, wealth gap, and moral degradation, have surfaced along the way. Against this backdrop, Dr. Samuel Yin established the Tang Prize in December 2012. It consists of four award categories, namely Sustainable Development, Biopharmaceutical Science, Sinology, and Rule of Law. Every other year, four independent and professional selection committees, made up of many internationally experts and scholars, including Nobel laureates, choose as Tang Prize recipient people who with great influence and great contributions to the world, regardless of ethnicity, nationality or gender. A cash prize of NT$50 million (approx. US$1.7 million) is allocated to each category, of which NT$10 million (approx. US$ 0.35 million) is designated as a research grant to support educational projects chosen by laureates, so as to prompt people to pay more attention to mankind’s most urgent needs in the 21st century, and to become leading forces behind the development of human society through their outstanding research and active civic engagement.