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Oldest member of famed chimpanzee tribe with tools dies alone in Guinea at age 71, leaving her two sons with just seven members of dying community
- Fana, born in 1951, died in solitude in Bossou in southeastern Guinea
- Her tribe uses stone hammers and anvils to crack nuts
- The numbers are declining and it is feared that the community will die out
The oldest member of a chimpanzee tribe famed for its remarkable use of tools has died in solitude at the age of 71.
Fana, a female chimpanzee born in 1951, died in the forest near the village of Bossou in southeastern Guinea, where scientists have spent decades studying the remarkable animal community.
Her death brings the number of Bossou chimpanzees down to just six or seven, half of which are females and two who can no longer reproduce.
Fana (pictured right in 2011) the oldest member of a chimpanzee tribe famed for its remarkable use of tools, has died in solitude at the age of 71
The tiny community of monkeys uses stone hammers and anvils to crack open nuts – the most sophisticated act ever witnessed by humanity’s genetically closest relative.
Fana has shown signs of exhaustion in recent months, the environment ministry said on Facebook on Tuesday.
Her left thigh has been paralyzed since she suffered a severe fall nearly 25 years ago and has not climbed trees for a long time.
She lived alone because she became less mobile.
Her body was found on September 19 and she was buried the next day in the presence of local villagers.
The Bossou monkeys have a unique relationship with the village population.
The great apes live in the wild, but share territory and resources with the local population, who protect them, assuming they are reincarnated ancestors.
A number of chimpanzees have been shown to use tools – including this one at a shelter in Kenya – but their prevalence among the Bossou tribe in Guinea makes them particularly interesting
Until 2003, the Bossou chimpanzee group was relatively stable with about 21 animals. But it lost seven members to the flu that year.
It has also been affected by human activities in the area.
The locals traditionally use slash-and-burn farming, and although they had preserved a 320-acre forest around Bossou, the deforestation of the area has cut it off from the rest of the Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve, which is home to more chimpanzee communities.
Slash-and-burn agriculture causes people to cultivate land until they become exhausted, then clear forests to create new lands and repeat the cycle.
The UNESCO-listed reserve stretches across Guinea’s border with Liberia and the Ivory Coast.
Fana leaves behind two sons, Foaf and Fanwa. She was predeceased by her daughter, Fotayou.
The small community of monkeys, famous for their remarkable use of tools, lives in a forest around the village of Bossou, in the extreme southeastern corner of Guinea
The latest girl was born in 2020 after researchers spotted the last fertile female in the group — Fanle — with a small baby on her stomach.
Aly Gaspard Soumah, director of the Bossou Environmental Research Institute, said they were able to confirm the baby’s gender as a female.
Female chimpanzees can have offspring every four or five years, meaning Fanle “will not be able to reproduce the group’s social dynamics by itself” in terms of numbers and genetic diversity, Soumah warned.
But there are other means of supporting the Bossou people as well — including building a “migration corridor” to allow two-way traffic between isolated communities and their hillside cousins.
Another possibility is to introduce young females into the tribe — an idea that has its critics, “who argue that this is a group that lives in the wild, that has to regulate its own natural destiny,” Soumah said.