African Great Apes - Evolution, Diversity, and Conservation -

Program of International Symposium for the 21st Century COE
A14, Kyoto University
Formation of a Strategic Base for the Multidisciplinary Strategy of Biodiversity

African Great Apes

Evolution, Diversity, and Conservation

March 3, 2004 at Kyoto Garden Palace; March 4-5, 2004 at Kyodai-Kaikan


This symposium is organized as a part of the 21st Century COE program of Kyoto University (A 14) “Formation of a strategic base for the multidisciplinary study of biodiversity”, to promote world-class research by unifying traditional field researches at Kyoto University with new developments in molecular biology, to construct a basic academic discipline of “Biodiversity Science”, and implement postgraduate education under a unified system of macro- and micro- biology.

The aim of this symposium is to reconsider our current knowledge of the African great apes from recent and on-going field studies, and to refocus it on evolutionary anthropology. This symposium is based on two previous conferences sponsored by the Wenner-Gren foundation. One is “The Great Apes” organized by Jane Goodall and David Hamburg and held at Burg Wartenstein, Austria in 1974. The other is “The Great Apes Revisited” organized by William McGrew and Toshisada Nishida, and held at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico in 1994. The first conference provided the first reliable information on social organization of the great apes from field studies with habituation. Data on chimpanzees and gorillas were limited to a single subspecies from Gombe, Mahale and Virungas. Field studies on bonobos had been just initiated and were introduced as a preliminary. The second conference included various study sites and provided new information on different subspecies. Special topics such as party size, copulation, positional behavior, nesting behavior and laterality of hand use were compared within species and between species. Sympatry of gorillas and chimpanzees was first reported and discussed in terms of ecological competition and niche differentiation.

Since then, we have expanded study sites and improved methodology of field research to allow us further inter-group, inter-regional and inter-species comparisons. DNA analysis and GPS (Global Positioning Systems) provided us with new technologies in our census methods to monitor populations of the great apes more precisely in wider areas. Paternity determination found their reproductive strategies hidden in social interactions. However, the recent collapse in the economy and politics of habitat countries has resulted in a prominent increase in habitat destruction and the poaching of the great apes in Africa. Frequent civil wars and outbreaks of the Ebola disease have caused a significant decline in ape populations in Central Africa. The African great apes are now in danger of extinction and world-wide conservation measures are needed to save them.

Six topics are selected in this symposium to discuss contributions of our studies on the African great apes to evolutionary anthropology and urgent conservation planning for their survival. Old and new topics are discussed in comparison with the previous conferences. We hope to obtain fruitful results from this symposium for the understandings of us, human beings, and for promoting our coexistence with the African great apes, our closest neighbors.

February 2004
Juichi Yamagiwa