Fraym partnered with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) to map chimpanzee habitats and analyze the risk of habitat loss in southeast Senegal. By combining AWF’s data on chimpanzee locations with Fraym’s expertise in human geography and spatial modeling, this analysis identified places where chimpanzees are likely to live and examined human settlement proximity and possibility of urban expansion. With this information, Senegal’s wildlife officials can better protect conservation areas and be aware of specific areas that may need closer monitoring and observation.

SDG 15 aims to protect terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity from ongoing threats including land degradation, wildlife trafficking, and deforestation. In southeast Senegal, wildlife conservationists are increasingly struggling with these challenges as they protect western chimpanzee populations from increasing urbanization and deforestation. Once spanning 13 countries from southern Senegal to central Nigeria, land development has reduced western chimpanzee habitat to fragments of its former range, with a total population now numbering at just 21,000 to 55,000 individuals. In 2019, Fraym partnered with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) to understand pressures from human activity on current western chimpanzee habitats in southeast Senegal.

With Fraym’s expertise in human geography and spatial modeling, this partnership transformed AWF’s survey data into actionable, nuanced analysis of chimpanzee habitats and their alignment with urban growth prospects by 2030. Within the area that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) designates as chimpanzee habitat, Fraym modeled the likelihood of chimpanzees down to the square kilometer at a fraction of the time and labor that a traditional species survey would require.

To accomplish this modeling, Fraym conducted low-cost species modeling using existing survey data, satellite imagery, and innovative machine learning techniques. AWF had recently surveyed selected chimpanzee habitats in the southeast region of Senegal over a two-month time period. To augment these data points, Fraym performed environmental profiling of the survey data with remote sensing information on environmental factors, overlaid with Fraym’s socio-economic demographic data pulled from multiple household surveys. The environmental profiling, in tandem with clustering methods, created a suitable training dataset for Fraym’s machine learning algorithms. The end model distinguishes the nuances between areas with chimpanzees and those without them, producing a more refined understanding of species distribution.

With a detailed map of current chimpanzee habitat for the entire designated range, Fraym and AWF turned to urbanization in the region as a major threat to these animals. Currently one major human settlement is expanding in the core of southeast Senegal habitat. Using our repository human geography data, Fraym estimated and mapped the probability of urban growth by 2030, overlaying the data with chimpanzee likelihood. In the image above, black and gray grid cells represent the probability of a non-urban area becoming urbanized by 2030, many of which overlap with areas of green indicating high likelihood of chimpanzees. Collectively, the entire area marked for urban expansion falls outside of protected areas (shaded in the image below), further highlighting the need for additional measures to protect chimpanzee habitat in the future. If neglected, Fraym’s analysis predicts that significant areas of chimpanzee habitat succumb to urban development within the next decade.

Understanding the dynamics between current species habitat and human geography can aid in both identifying and protecting species and help inform actors across multiple sectors as to how their decisions will affect local ecosystems. Machine learning techniques like Fraym’s can quickly and significantly contribute to this understanding. Pairing pre-existing data from household surveys, work from organizations like AWF, and remote sensing can transform our methods of analysis and targeting strategies, ultimately giving better protection to the western chimpanzee and other life on land.