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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: July 2010

15 - Long-term research and conservation in the Mahale Mountains, Tanzania



Japan's study of great apes began in 1958, when Kinji Imanishi and Jun'ichiro Itani of the Japan Monkey Centre Gorilla Expedition left for Africa in search of a site for the study of gorillas. The research target was later changed to the chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) of Tanzania because of political disturbances in eastern Congo, and their search continued for 3 years. At four sites in western Tanzania, the researchers used three different methods in attempts to habituate chimpanzees: planting food crops such as banana and sugarcane (provisioning), presenting a tame infant chimpanzee, and making contact with wild chimpanzees without any form of artificial intervention (Nishida, 1990).

In 1965, Nishida tried to attract chimpanzees by planting sugarcane in the Kasoje area, along the western foot of the Mahale Mountains. In March 1966, K group chimpanzees began to visit the plantation, and in 1968 the M group started visiting. Because the feeding area happened to be inside the overlapping areas of the two unit groups (“communities”), it was possible to elucidate the social units among chimpanzees, antagonistic relationships between groups, and the female transfer system (Nishida, 1968; Nishida and Kawanaka, 1972). The Mahale Mountains Chimpanzee Research Project has continued ever since.


Nishida realized the need to conserve the chimpanzee habitat as early as 1967. He was disturbed by the felling of trees in the preferred forests of K group chimpanzees and feared that the forests would disappear forever.

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