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Nov 27, 2013 08:43 AM EST

Bonobos Losing Habitat at a Fast Pace, Study

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Bonobos are losing their habitat at an alarming pace.

Only 23 percent of Bonobo territory in the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains habitable, according to a new study jointly conducted by University of Georgia, University of Maryland, Wildlife Conservation Society, World Wildlife Fund and other groups.

Researchers said that the loss of functional habitat can be blamed on mushrooming human population, deforestation and widespread poaching.

"The results of the study demonstrate that human activities reduce the amount of effective bonobo habitat and will help us identify where to propose future protected areas for this great ape," Jena R. Hickey of Cornell University and the University of Georgia, and the study's lead author, said in a press release.

Ashley Vosper of the Wildlife Conservation Society said that Bonobos are probably the least understood apes in Africa.

"For bonobos to survive over the next 100 years or longer, it is extremely important that we understand the extent of their range, their distribution, and drivers of that distribution so that conservation actions can be targeted in the most effective way and achieve the desired results," Vosper said.

The researchers used information on nest counts between 2003 and 2010 and remote-sensing imagery to create more than 2,000 'nest blocks.' Each block is defined as a 1-hectare area occupied by at least one bonobo.

They then tested the blocks against a set of factors including both ecological conditions and human impact, such as distance from roads, agriculture and loss of forest cover among others. Using a model that listed out the most important environmental factors impacting the bonobo's nesting location, they arrived at the results.

"Bonobos that live in closer proximity to human activity and to points of human access are more vulnerable to poaching, one of their main threats," Janet Nackoney, a research assistant professor at University of Maryland, said.

The study appears in the December edition of Biodiversity and Conservation.

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