Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Chimp&See update, March 2021: What's done and what's here!

 Hi everyone

We have started 2021 with a BANG!

In the last months look at all we have accomplished:

  • Finished chimp matching at XenonBloom (bye bye algae fishing chimps...for now ;) )
  • Finished chimp matching at SoaringLeaf  and our first chimp matching site truly run by a mod and it was a HUGE success - thank you wonderful Heidi/Boleyn!!!
  • Opened the new Cameroon-Nigeria chimpanzee site GlowingCloud
  • Started GORILLA matching at Green Toadstool - with an all new focus on silverbacks and groups thanks to the great ideas of, and lead by, our mod Anja/AnLand!
  • We did some housekeeping at New Dragonfly an identified all the unique chimps there - a big thank you to the scimods Paula/PauDG and Nuria/NuriaM for this big effort!
  • There has also been a huge effort at site clean up by our amazing team lead by Karen/Kikilee3 and Lucia/luca-chimp who are taking care of the videos with the need_id tags and wrong tags! Thank you ladies :)
  • We have a whole new set of "how to" videos curated by Carol/Eweforia HERE  
  • We also have LOTS of new chimp matching tools including all the wonderful mug shots (including butt mug shots) curated by burdock/Libby and Carol/Eweforia
and what's happening now?
  • We just launched CHIMP matching at GreenToadstool which features some very exotic blond chimps and some clever honey collection with tools from a central chimp population
A blond chimp! get involved in chimp matching at GreenToadstool to find her again!

So what have we found?
At Xenon Bloom we named an incredible 92 chimps and found 4 unique chimps for a total of 96 at least, at this site!

At Soaring Leaf we named 21 chimps and found 8 unique for a total of at east 29 chimps at that site :)

We saw a lot of stone throwing and the incredible night time displays of multiple chimps

The three most often seen and recognized chimps (thanks to their unique features) even inspired an epic ballad by TheWeez15/Zaneb aka Sev : Our Leopard-Muzzled Grock


A big thank you and big pant hoots always to our awesome mod team especially Heike/HeikeW and Zuzi/yshish who are a massive support during these busy times! and as well to our tech support hero Colleen/sassydumbledore, you are THE BEST!

We are looking for new chimp matchers, check out THIS POST and sign up for the team calls :)

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The different African elephant species


It has been believed for years that there was only one African elephant species, the savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana), and the small forest elephant was a subspecies. It was only some years ago that the forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) was finally considered as another African elephant species, when research had found that these two elephants are genetically distinct from one another.

I say finally, because by recognizing their status as species and not as subspecies, one can best manage a designed elephant conservation strategy. Forest elephants are ecologically, socially, morphologically and genetically different to savanna elephants, and that´s why a strategy particularly designed is needed. The decline of the forest elephant population represents the decline of an entire endangered species, and not just of a sub-population.

So now we have two recognized African elephant species, the forest and the savanna elephants; but really? Two species? what about the Congo Pygmy elephants, have you ever heard about them?

A bit of history:

the first supposed pygmy elephant was evidenced in a Zoo in Germany (Hamburg Zoo) and then moved to New York, but the authors described it as a very small forest elephant found in Congo and South Western Uganda.

The zoo elephant was a young male called Congo and described by Noack (1906) as Elephas africanus pumilio, later known as Loxodonta pumilio or fransseni. Congo was a small young male with very round ears that reminded a lot of the recently known to science forest elephant (described at the beginning of the 20th century by Matschie, 1900)1. Ever since their discovery, the pygmy elephant status has been debated. Some scientists have supported their existence, most haven´t.

Although the disputed pygmy elephants of the Congo basin are thought to be another separate species by cryptozoologists, it is unanimously believed that those are actually forest elephants.

One explanation to why scientists thought to have found a different species of elephants back in the 20th century could be that they were at that time unfamiliar with the growth patterns and social structure of elephants and thus what they described to be a herd of very small elephants, was actually a herd where the big matriarch had died and thus there remained young females and calves.

There are also voices that claim that this unusually small size of the forest elephants that made the scientists believe in the existence of a third species was due to an early maturity as a result of environmental conditions.

The scientists conclude that the specific taxon Loxodonta pumilio (or Loxodonta fransseni) should be abandoned; so to the question, yes, there are two different African elephant species: savanna and forest elephants.

Congo, a presumed pygmy elephant, now classified as Loxodonta cyclotis (African forest elephant).

 How different are they?

The forest elephants are smaller and thus lighter. Their skin is smoother, with longer hairs (mostly on their trunks) and long eyelashes, that protect their eyes while they walk through the dense forest. Their ears are rounder (cycle=round, otis=ear), the savanna elephant ears have the African continent shape. Like the savanna elephants, both sexes have tusks, but those of the forest species are more or less straight and thinner. The forest elephants have 5 toenails on the front feet and 4 on the hind feet (like the Asian elephants), while the savanna elephants have 4 on the front feet and 3 on the back.

The forest elephants live in smaller family groups (and often more disperse) than savanna elephants and have a different diet, the latter´s consisting basically of grass, whereas the forest elephants eat more browse, tree leaves and fruits.

What´s their geographical range?

As their name suggests, the African forest elephants live in Africa’s forests. While they once inhabited a larger range, they now are confined to the tropical forests of Equatorial West and Central Africa.

The geographical range of the African savanna elephants is wider, but in some areas their distribution overlaps with that of the forest elephants in Central and Eastern Africa. Some scientists talk about “hybrid zones” facilitated by poaching and habitat modifications, and defend the theory that these species can interbreed over more than one generation, which demonstrates that hybrids are fertile2.

Which African elephant species do we see in Chimp&See?

In almost every Chimp&See site where we have found elephants, we have seen forest elephants. But due to that territory overlapping there have been some sites where the elephants weren´t so small anymore. I am referring to Green Snowflake and Restless Star, where both species coexist, whose range overlap and where both species may be inter breeding, and to Soaring Leaf, where we have seen savanna elephants.

Check the Chimp&See Loxodonta africana :

The big Gabela, Green Snowflake (how many front toenails can you count?) 

and compare them to the Chimp&See Loxodonta cyclotis:

Sahndra, Twin Oaks 

Tayo, Twin Oaks

Jino, Green Toadstool 

If you want to see more awesome elephant videos, check our Elephant Discussion Board. Please feel free to post any comment or anything that you want to know about elephants in that board! 



1.      1. Groves, C. P., & Grubb, P. (2000). Are there Pygmy Elephants?. Elephant, 2(4), 8-10. Doi: 10.22237/elephant/1521732181

       2. Mondol, Samrat & Moltke, Ida & Hart, John & Keigwin, Michael & Brown, Lisa & Stephens, Matthew & Wasser, Samuel. (2015). New evidence for hybrid zones of forest and savanna elephants in Central and West Africa. Molecular ecology. 24. 10.1111/mec.13472

Friday, March 5, 2021

New PanAf paper: Recent genetic connectivity and clinal variation in chimpanzees

From our press release : Chimpanzees Without Borders

A new large-scale study uncovers recent genetic connectivity between chimpanzee subspecies despite past isolation events

Much like us, chimpanzees, occupy diverse habitats and exhibit extensive behavioural variation. Human genetic variation however changes along a gradient, with no races and some areas of local genetic adaptation. Chimpanzees, on the other hand, are divided into four subspecies separated by geographic barriers like rivers. Previous studies attempting to understand chimpanzee population histories have been limited either by a poor geographic distribution of samples, samples of uncertain origin or different types of genetic markers. Due to these obstacles, some studies have shown clear separations between chimpanzee subspecies while others suggest a genetic gradient across the species as in humans.

Chimpanzee dung samples were collected across Africa to determine if populations were recently connected despite historical barriers to gene flow.

To resolve this dichotomy, researchers from the Pan African Programme: The Cultured Chimpanzee (PanAf) at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and a team of international researchers, collected over 5000 fecal samples from 55 sites in 18 countries across the chimpanzee range over 8 years. This is by far the most complete sampling of the species to date, with a known location of origin for every sample, thus addressing the sampling limitations of previous studies. “Collecting these samples was often a daunting task for our amazing field teams. The chimpanzees were almost all unhabituated to human presence, so it took a lot of patience, skill and luck to find chimpanzee dung at each of the sites,” explains Mimi Arandjelovic, co-director of the PanAf and senior author of the study.

Anthony Agbor, co-author of the study and field site manager at several PanAf sites, prepares samples for processing in the field.

Jack Lester, first author of the study, explains: “We used rapidly-evolving genetic markers that reflect the recent population history of species and, in combination with the dense sampling from across their range, we show that chimpanzee subspecies have been connected, or, more likely, reconnected, for extended periods during the most recent maximal expansion of African forests.”

So although chimpanzees were separated into different subspecies in their distant past, prior to the rise of recent anthropogenic disturbances, the proposed subspecies-specific geographic barriers were permeable to chimpanzee dispersal. Paolo Gratton, co-author of the study and researcher at the Università di Roma “Tor Vergata” adds: “It is widely thought that chimpanzees persisted in forest refugia during glacial periods, which has likely been responsible for isolating groups of populations which we now recognize as subspecies. Our results from fast-evolving microsatellite DNA markers however indicate that genetic connectivity in the most recent millennia mainly mirrors geographic distance and local factors, masking the older subspecies subdivisions.”

Furthermore, “these results suggest that the great behavioural diversity observed in chimpanzees are therefore not due to local genetic adaptation but that they rely on behavioural flexibility, much like humans, to respond to changes in their environment,” notes Hjalmar Kuehl, co-director of the PanAf and researcher at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research.

The team also observed signals of reductions in diversity at some sites that appeared to be associated with recent anthropogenic pressures. In fact, at some locations PanAf teams visited no, or few, chimpanzees were detected despite recordings of their presence within the last decades. “Although not unforeseen, we were disheartened to already find the influence of human impacts at some field sites where genetic diversity was markedly lower than what we expected,” says Jack Lester.

These results highlight the importance of genetic connectivity for chimpanzees in their recent history. “Every effort should be made to re-establish and maintain dispersal corridors across their range, with perhaps special attention to trans-national protected areas,” notes Christophe Boesch, co-director of the PanAf and director of the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation. Chimpanzees are known to be adaptable to human disturbance and can survive in human-modified landscapes, however, habitat loss, zoonotic diseases, bushmeat and pet trades are all threats to chimpanzee survival. These results warn of future critical impacts on their genetic health and viability if habitat fragmentation and isolation continue unabated.

As the chimpanzees were not habituated to human presence, scat samples were used as sources of DNA for the study. Here a chimpanzee from one of the study areas is recorded by a PanAf camera trap. At the Chimp&See citizen science project, all PanAf videos can be viewed and annotated.


Lester JD, Vigilant L, Gratton P, McCarthy MS, Barratt CD, Dieguez P, Agbor A, Álvarez-Varona P, Angedakin S, Ayimisin EA, Bailey E, Bessone M, Brazzola G, Chancellor R, Cohen H, Danquah E, Deschner T, Egbe VE, Eno-Nku M, Goedmakers A, Granjon AC, Head J, Hedwig D, Hernandez-Aguilar RA, Jeffery KJ, Jones S, Junker J, Kadam P, Kaiser M, Kalan AK, Kehoe L, Kienast I, Langergraber KE, Lapuente J, Laudisoit A, Lee K, Marrocoli S, Mihindou V, Morgan D, Muhanguzi G, Neil E, Nicholl S, Orbell C, Ormsby LJ, Pacheco L, Piel A, Robbins MM, Rundus A, Sanz C, Sciaky L, Siaka AM, Städele V, Stewart F, Tagg N, Ton E, van Schijndel J, Vyalengerera MK, Wessling EG, Willie J, Wittig RM, Yuh YG, Yurkiw K, Zuberbuehler K, Boesch C, Kühl HS, Arandjelovic M (2021) Recent genetic connectivity and clinal variation in chimpanzees. Communications Biology