Source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Approximately 345,000 or fewer chimpanzees remain in the wild, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a substantial decline from the more than two million that existed a hundred years ago. Humans' closest genetic cousins, chimpanzees are an endangered species and scientists and conservationists are turning to the NASA-U.S. Geological Survey Landsat satellites to help bolster their efforts to preserve their forest homes.
"Chimpanzees are in crisis," said Lilian Pintea, a remote sensing specialist and vice president of conservation science for the Jane Goodall Institute, Vienna, Virginia, citing hunting and illegal bushmeat consumption, disease, illegal capture for the pet trade and habitat loss as the culprits.
Among these, habitat loss is visible from space.
In 2000, Pintea saw his first side-by-side comparison of two Landsat satellite images, one taken in 1972 and the other in 1999, of the region around Gombe National Park, Tanzania. The 1972 image showed forests that stretched across the region. The 1999 image showed vast swaths of deforestation outside of the park, with its boundary written into the landscape. On one side of the park boundary were lush trees covering the steep slopes that rise from the east of Lake Tanganyika. On the other -- bare hills.