Ape Abundance and Habitat Use in the Goualougo Triangle, Republic of Congo
Chimpanzee ( Pan troglodytes troglodytes ) and western gorilla ( Gorilla gorilla gorilla ) populations in central Africa are rapidly declining as a result of disease epidemics, commercial bushmeat hunting, and habitat destruction. Our main objective was to estimate the absolute abundance and habitat utilization of chimpanzees and gorillas in the intact forests of the Goualougo Triangle in the Republic of Congo, and in an adjacent area in which selective logging will take place in the near future. The estimates provide a unique baseline for apes inhabiting an undisturbed environment. A second objective was to compare estimates of abundance and patterns of habitat utilization generated by different techniques: 1) distance sampling of individual ape nests and nest sites along line transects, 2) direct observations of apes during reconnaissance surveys, and 3) observations of ape traces during reconnaissance surveys. We completed a total of 222 km of line transect surveys in 4 sampling areas, resulting in overall density estimates of 1.53 chimpanzees/km 2 and 2.34 gorillas/km 2 from nest sites. We generated a density estimate of 2.23 chimpanzees/km 2 from direct observations during reconnaissance surveys of a semihabituated community in 1 of the 4 sampling areas. Habitat use profiles that nest surveys depicted on transects differed from those of direct observations and traces we encountered on reconnaissance surveys. We found the highest overall abundance of chimpanzee nests in monodominant Gilbertiodendron forest, whereas our direct observations showed that chimpanzees preferred mixed species forest. Transects that traversed the core area of the community range had the highest encounter rates of chimpanzee nests and nest sites. Gorilla nests on transects showed a preference only for mixed species forest with an open canopy, but direct observations and traces on reconnaissance surveys clearly indicated that gorillas use several habitat types. We conclude by evaluating the precision of these nest surveys and our ability to detect future trends in ape densities in the Goualougo Triangle.