Research and conservation in the greater Gombe ecosystem: Challenges and opportunities

Michael L Wilson, Elizabeth V. Lonsdorf, Deus C. Mjungu, Shadrack Kamenya, Elihuruma Wilson Kimaro, D. Anthony Collins, Thomas R. Gillespie, Dominic A. Travis, Iddi Lipende, Dismas Mwacha, Sood A. Ndimuligo, Lilian Pintea, Jane Raphael, Emmanuel R. Mtiti, Beatrice H. Hahn, Anne E. Pusey, Jane Goodall

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2 Scopus citations


The study of chimpanzees in Gombe National Park, Tanzania, started by Jane Goodall in 1960, provided pioneering accounts of chimpanzee behavior and ecology. With funding from multiple sources, including the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) and grants from private foundations and federal programs, the project has continued for sixty years, providing a wealth of information about our evolutionary cousins. These chimpanzees face two main challenges to their survival: infectious disease — including simian immunodeficiency virus (SIVcpz), which can cause Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in chimpanzees — and the deforestation of land outside the park. A health monitoring program has increased understanding of the pathogens affecting chimpanzees and has promoted measures to characterize and reduce disease risk. Deforestation reduces connections between Gombe and other chimpanzee populations, which can cause loss of genetic diversity. To promote habitat restoration, JGI facilitated participatory village land use planning, in which communities voluntarily allocated land to a network of Village Land Forest Reserves. Expected benefits to people include stabilizing watersheds, improving water supplies, and ensuring a supply of forest resources. Surveys and genetic analyses confirm that chimpanzees persist on village lands and remain connected to the Gombe population. Many challenges remain, but the regeneration of natural forest on previously degraded lands provides hope that conservation solutions can be found that benefit both people and wildlife. Conservation work in the Greater Gombe Ecosystem has helped promote broader efforts to plan and work for conservation elsewhere in Tanzania and across Africa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108853
JournalBiological Conservation
StatePublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Many challenges remain. The lack of diagnostic tools available on site, the limited infrastructure for keeping samples cold in transit, and the long delay between sample collection and testing, are the most formidable barriers. However, a newly constructed on-site laboratory funded by the National Science Foundation has improved our diagnostic capacity. Efforts are underway to build a mobile genome sequencing lab and develop local capacity in partnership with Microsoft's Project Premonition. The IUCN Best Practices Guidelines for Great Ape Health ( Gilardi et al. 2015 ) provide further guidance for protecting Gombe's wild primates from health-related threats. The COVID-19 pandemic has reemphasized these threats. Extreme precautions, including the temporary suspension of research, have been employed to safeguard the future of Gombe's wildlife ( Gillespie et al., 2020 ). Additional measures, such as providing treatment during outbreaks, may be needed. Outside the park, partnerships must be expanded to promote ecosystem health more broadly. Finally, to ensure the conservation of wildlife in developing countries, it is critically important to build local capacity for veterinary health. To date, the project has trained three Tanzanian veterinarians specialized in great ape health, and has provided advanced training in laboratory and research techniques to several other staff.

Funding Information:
We thank Richard Primack and Reinmar Seidler for the invitation to contribute to this special issue. They, together with Ullas Karanth, Samba Kumar, Krithi Karanth and anonymous reviewers, provided helpful comments on our manuscript. We thank the Gombe National Park, Gombe Stream Research Centre and TACARE field teams for carrying out the work needed to make research and conservation in and around Gombe possible, and the Jane Goodall Institute for supporting these projects. We thank the many people who entered and managed the long-term data. Permission to carry out research at Gombe was granted by the Government of Tanzania, Tanzania National Parks, Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology, and Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute. This work was supported by funds from the National Institutes of Health ( R00 HD057992 , R01 AI050529 , R01 AI120810 ), the National Science Foundation ( DBS-9021946 , SBR-9319909 , BCS-0452315 , IOS-1052693 , IOS-1457260 , BCS-0648481 , BCS-1753437 , BCS-1743506 ), the United States Agency for International Development , the Arcus Foundation , Leo S. Guthman Foundation , the Leakey Foundation , Margo Marsh , American Association of Zoos and Veterinarians , Mazuri Grant., the Morris Animal Foundation , the National Geographic Society , the Harris Steel Group , the Windibrow Foundation , the Carnegie Corporation of New York , the University of Minnesota , Franklin and Marshall College , George Washington University , and Duke University .


  • Chimpanzee Pan troglodytes
  • Conservation
  • Gombe National Park

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