Habitat alteration and the conservation of African primates: case study of Kibale National Park, Uganda.
Tropical forests and the animals they support are being threatened by accelerating rates of forest conversion and degradation. In a continually fluctuating sociopolitical world, it is often impossible to protect areas from such conversion until the political environment is suitable to pursue conservation goals, by which time, the forests have often been converted to other uses. This reality suggests a need for inquiry into which primate species can persist after different types of disturbances and how quickly primate communities can recover from disturbance. Here we examine the persistence of primate populations in disturbed habitats by providing a case study of patterns of primate abundance in areas of Kibale National Park (766 km2), Uganda, that have been modified by different types and intensities of human activities, primarily commercial logging and agricultural clearing. Distributional surveys at 24 sites and detailed line-transect censuses at six sites demonstrate that primate populations in Kibale are often high and suggest that patterns of population change associated with disturbance are complex. Analysis of the land use coverage of Kibale reveals that abandoned farms (10.3%) and degraded forest (8.7%) now cover 146 km2. Unfortunately, we do not know what proportion of the farms were established on areas that were forest versus grassland. However, if the areas that are now abandoned farms were all once forested, this means that 79 km2 of forest has been lost. Based on density estimates from nearby sites, this would represent a loss of 52,612 monkeys and 200 chimpanzees. Populations would also have been affected by the degradation of the 66 km2 (8.7%) of forest. These estimates of the potential reductions in the primate populations that could have resulted from forest clearing and degradation illustrate the importance of protecting land. A review of the literature illustrates that the biomass of primates found within Kibale is very high in comparison to other locations and thus illustrates the importance of Kibale to regional conservation.