Despite the fact that chimpanzees are strictly diurnal, or daytime animals that avoid nighttime activity because their historic main predators, leopards, hunt at night, chimps in a national park in Uganda have been filmed raiding farmers’ fields inside the park’s borders.
The footage was captured by researchers from the Museum of Natural History in Paris and the Uganda Wildlife Authority and shows how chimps respond to pressures placed on their habitat by humans. Researchers studied Kibale National Park in Uganda by putting up camera traps on the outskirts near farms and tea estates. They believe that human encroachment on chimp habitats is prompting the chimps to respond with foraging expeditions on human land, but were still taken aback at the brazenness of the raids.
Despite the potentially disfiguring traps and snares used in the area, the chimps seem quite at ease with their new ritual, even stopping for bouts of sexual intercourse, according to New Scientist. Ordinarily active during the day, the nighttime raid reflects the apes’ ability to adapt to human activity. Since habitat loss is a greater threat to chimps than predators, they will go to great lengths to reclaim land even though it means potentially being attacked or killed by people defending crops. Scientists believe that this is why they prefer to raid at night — it helps them avoid detection.
More specifically, the researchers witnessed large parts of eight or more chimps, which is more than double the median of the party size of three chimps of the same community during feeding activities in the forest, raid the crops. These groups didn’t just include males and single females, though; they also included females with clinging infants.
While the change in behavior is certainly effective, such drastic measures are worrisome to scientists. According to Dr. Catherine Hobaiter, an expert in chimp behavior from the University of St Andrews, the fact that these wild animals are willing to go to such lengths to acquire foods means they’re under real environmental pressures. It also increases the chances that there will be run-ins with humans trying to protect their crops.
“From a conservation perspective, the only long-term solution is the protection of the remaining forests,” she added.
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