Page last updated at 09:44 GMT, Thursday, 12 March 2009

How to survive great ape attacks

Great ape (Pic: Kimberley Hockings)
Great apes can raid farms for food

The best way of keeping yourself alive after coming across a great ape is to stay calm, try not to scream and avoid running away, according to scientists.

A Stirling University ecologist has been studying the behaviour of bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans.

Dr Kimberley Hockings' report said that most great apes were afraid of humans and attacks were therefore uncommon.

She said assaults were more likely when the animals were provoked by things such as stone throwing or shouts.

Dr Hockings and fellow great ape expert Tatyana Humle produce guidelines on how to avoid the animals and humans coming into conflict for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The researchers warned that as human populations grew and people moved further into forests it was more likely that humans in Africa and Asia would meet great apes.

In particular, the animals could raid farms for food or humans and great apes may accidentally meet on paths they shared.

The IUCN report stated that if someone comes across a gorilla they should stand up and hold their ground while avoiding eye contact to try to stop a charge. Running away was seen as the worst reaction.

The dynamics are changing as both habitat loss and human population increase
Dr Kimberley Hockings
Stirling University
People could also stand in a group and hold onto each other or a tree to avoid being pulled to the ground.

The report also highlighted research suggesting that adult male chimpanzees were less likely to confront men than women or children, so adult men should lead a group.

The researchers said that sometimes children could be left behind when adults run away from great apes, which increased the chance of the youngsters coming to harm.

They stated that children should not be left alone near forests or be allowed to go into the woods on their own.

Dr Hockings, a behavioural ecologist, said: "One of the greatest challenges facing great ape conservation is the rising level of interaction between humans and great apes, often brought about when great apes feed on crops.

"By understanding more about how conflicts come about and how they affect the lives of both great apes and humans, we can propose counter-measures and reduce the likelihood of new conflict situations developing.

"Humans and wildlife have interacted for thousands of years. But the dynamics are changing as both habitat loss and human population increase.

"Many people are unaware that all the great apes are endangered but experts predict that by 2030, more than 90% of great ape habitat will have suffered moderate to high impact from human activities. That can only exacerbate the problems of human-great ape conflict."

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