The effects of palm oil agribusiness on primate populations in Korup National Park, Cameroon: using geographic information systems as a conservation tool
Although myriad forces threaten Africa's primates, the combination of habitat loss and hunting by rapidly increasing human populations is the most serious, placing many species at direct risk of local extirpation and global extinction. There are many organizations and governments currently invested in protecting threatened species in these regions, but current conservation projects and monitoring methods may not be fully equipped to understand and deal with the complex dynamics of anthropogenic influence on any particular area. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are integrative, multidisciplinary tools that conservationists can use to combat the growing complexities hindering conservation and produce more accurate assessments of the spatial and temporal factors threatening wildlife. In this study, I used GIS and multidisciplinary data sources to explore how the expansion of Herakles Farms, a large-scale, multinational palm oil agribusiness, influenced primate populations in Korup National Park (KNP), Cameroon, over time. Specifically, I combined primate census and hunting intensity data from studies conducted in the Korup area with relevant public datasets, including land use information, satellite imagery and human population statistics for two periods, before the expansion of Herakles Farms (Pre-2007) and after (2008-2014), to assess changes in the Korup landscape and its primate populations and relate such changes to the development of this large-scale palm oil agribusiness. Change detection analyses revealed that land allocated for large-scale palm oil agriculture, total length of roads and human population density increased and forested area decreased between the two periods. By reclassifying these anthropogenic variables as risk factors and combining them in a habitat suitability model for each period, I was able to show that areas most intensely impacted by anthropogenic change corresponded with areas that experienced the greatest reductions in primate abundance. These findings bolster reports made by international conservation biologists and local wildlife conservation organizations that claim KNP's wildlife is becoming increasingly threatened as industrial palm oil agriculture begins to spread across the region, intensifying rates of hunting pressure on animals in and around the park, promoting deforestation throughout the region and dissecting one of Africa's remaining large tracts of contiguous forest.