The Goualougo Triangle - In Conversation with David Morgan


    David Morgan and Crickette Sanz are co-directors of the Goualougo Triangle Ape Research Project which is a long-term research project focusing on the behavioural ecology of chimpanzees and gorillas in the Congo Basin. David, who is based at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, has been working in the Republic of Congo around the The Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park since 1996. Here he explains the history, the status and the importance of the Goualougo Triangle.

    What is the Goualougo Triangle?

    When The Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park was founded in 1993 as part of an initiative to maintain the pristine forests of the Ndoki region, the Goualougo Triangle was not included in the National Park and the area was scheduled for logging. The founder and the then Director General of Congolaise Industrielle de Bois (CIB), Dr Hinrich Lueder Stoll worked with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and government to conserve the 25,600 ha, shaped like a triangle.  Thanks to the pioneering initiative two decades ago, the Goualougo Triangle’s applied research provides new insights into apes, ecology and forestry while preserving the pristine forests and resident wildlife.


    What makes the Goualougo Triangle special?

    The Goualougo Triangle Ape Project’s research focuses on three of the major factors believed most important in influencing the long-term sustainability of their habitat:  applied conservation research, responsible forest management, and capacity building.

    Located in the Republic of the Congo in Africa, The Goualougo Triangle has a very important history because it is intact forest, so it’s never been exploited in recent times by humans for timber harvesting, or been an area used by authochtones (indigenous people) for hunting. It was originally identified by Mike Fay from the Wildlife Conservation Society when he surveyed this region in late 1989. What was most notable to him was the lack of human activity in the area. There were large trees, and what was particularly special was the abundance of wildlife and the response they showed, particularly chimpanzees when approached. They were completely naïve of humans, as were the elephants and gorillas to a certain extent. That was special because it highlighted the conservation importance of the area. That was part of the drive that became the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park.


    Where does CIB Olam come into play in this Triangle?

    CIB comes into play in the late-1990s after the park was formed in 1993. The enclave of pristine forest between the Ndoki and Goualougo Rivers that formed the Goualougo remained in the harvesting area of the Kabo concession. It became the Wildlife Conservation Society’s goal to get the area annexed to the park. CIB, which was led at the time by Dr Stoll, was part of the discussions to protect it. The timing was right because certification was beginning to start up in the region to protect wildlife and local people’s livelihoods. There were concerns about the potential arrival of unsustainable hunting of wildlife in these remote areas.


    It is the 20-year anniversary in 2019,  so what progress has been made in terms of research and learnings?

    Since the inception of the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project, we certainly have come a long way in understanding chimpanzee and gorilla behaviour and ecology. We have learned an exceptional amount in that period about the behaviour of the chimpanzees, their resource needs and even culture. This is the first site in Central Africa where chimpanzees had ever been habituated to humans’ presence. Wherever chimpanzees are studied in different habitats they show different behaviours. There is also still much to learn about their “cultural” differences between populations but the opportunities to do so are disappearing. Poaching, habitat loss and conversion all threaten their existence. In Goualougo we continue to learn more about their behaviour in ways that possibly may not have happened if the area had not have been annexed to the park.


    In the next 20 years, how do you see the project developing?

    One area of future interest is in how chimpanzees and gorillas coexist in these forests. This is the only place where there are habituated chimpanzees and gorillas in the same area. Interestingly we sometimes see chimpanzee juveniles play with juvenile gorillas. What we learn from apes living in an intact forest landscape that are undisturbed by humans is vital to our understanding of apes living outside protected areas. Another research opportunity is to better understand how natural and anthropogenic diseases impact wild apes. This research can have implications on human health particularly in areas where humans overlap with wild apes. If you have a population such as in the Goualougo that hasn’t been disturbed by humans, you can make comparisons, with other sites that have varying degrees of disturbance. Studies like this can inform the linkages between health, sociality, ecology, the impacts of responsible and sustainable logging, and how to work with stakeholders to help better protect populations that aren’t living in the national park. We are fortunate to have an international team of collaborators that lend expertise in areas such as epidemiology, genetics, viruses, and botany. 


    What other research is providing  insights into the region and its wildlife?

    There is other great research going on inside the park as well. Monitoring at a clearing known as Mbeli Bai has been going on for 24 years in a setting completely different from the observations of gorillas in the forest environment. Research on smaller primates in the forests surrounding Mbeli Bai is also providing insights into antipredator behaviour and group interactions in these understudied species. Acoustic monitoring in the park and in the logging concession includes teams collecting data on the communication dynamics of forest elephants, and human encroachment. We are fortunate to have CIB Olam as our partner in this area. Some companies wouldn’t even be open to discussions regarding increased protection measures or reduced impact guidelines.


    How inaccessible is the triangle?

    Low human population density, lack of roads, intact forest and large swamps have protected the area known as the Goualougo Triangle and the wildlife that reside in it for generations. Compared to most other forests in the region this area remains one of the most tranquil and undisturbed forests in existence.


    Ajita Chowhan, Heads Communication for Congolaise Industrielle des Bois in the Republic of Congo.
    Ajita Chowhan Heads Communication for Congolaise Industrielle des Bois in the Republic of Congo.

    Ajita is a digital multimedia story-teller with an industry expertise of 18 years in print and digital mediums. She pursues long-term travel with a purpose of engaging with the communities and being a medium to tell their stories through pictures, documentaries, articles and graphics.

    She has travelled to more countries than her age, cities spread across five continents. She has been widely published in international journals and magazines.

    Subscribe to Our News Alerts