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Distribution and Numbers of Pygmies in Central African Forests

Olivero, J and Fa, JE and Farfan, MA and Lewis, J and Hewlett, B and Breuer, T and Carpaneto, GM and Fernandez, M and Germi, F and Hattori, S and Head, J and Ichikawa, M and Kitanaishi, K and Knights, J and Matsuura, N and Migliano, A and Nese, B and Noss, A and Ekoumou, DO and Paulin, P and Real, R and Riddell, M and Stevenson, EGJ and Toda, M and Vargas, JM and Yasuoka, H and Nasi, R (2016) Distribution and Numbers of Pygmies in Central African Forests. PLOS ONE, 11. ISSN 1932-6203


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Pygmy populations occupy a vast territory extending west-to-east along the central African belt from the Congo Basin to Lake Victoria. However, their numbers and actual distribution is not known precisely. Here, we undertake this task by using locational data and population sizes for an unprecedented number of known Pygmy camps and settlements (n = 654) in five of the nine countries where currently distributed. With these data we develop spatial distribution models based on the favourability function, which distinguish areas with favourable environmental conditions from those less suitable for Pygmy presence. Highly favourable areas were significantly explained by presence of tropical forests, and by lower human pressure variables. For documented Pygmy settlements, we use the relationship between observed population sizes and predicted favourability values to estimate the total Pygmy population throughout Central Africa. We estimate that around 920,000 Pygmies (over 60% in DRC) is possible within favourable forest areas in Central Africa. We argue that fragmentation of the existing Pygmy populations, alongside pressure from extractive industries and sometimes conflict with conservation areas, endanger their future. There is an urgent need to inform policies that can mitigate against future external threats to these indigenous peoples’ culture and lifestyles.

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