CAMBRIDGE, England, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- For the first time, a comprehensive survey is offering a measured estimate of the Pygmy population in Central Africa.
In addition to tallying the number of Pygmies, the study plots the geographic range of Pygmy communities and highlights the natural resources most vital to their existence.
The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, puts the Pygmy population at approximately 920,000. Their range is spread across 440 million acres of tropical forest in Central Africa, an area encompassing nine countries.
Those numbers sound large, and to some extent they are. Pygmies are the largest group of active hunter-gatherers on Earth.
But the Pygmies are also a tiny minority.
"At the end of the day, 900,000 people living in small groups in such a vast area can very easily be ignored, leading to their cultural extinction," study co-author John Fa, a researcher at the Manchester Metropolitan University in England, said in a press release. "Given the extraordinary role they have played in the human story since well before antiquity, we don't want that."
There is no Pygmy survey, and counting such a small group of people spread across such a vast landscape is nearly impossible. So researchers adapted ecological modeling normally used to measure the population and distribution of plant and animal species.
"By using tried and tested animal and plant distribution models we hope to promote a greater awareness of the importance of these too often ignored and marginalized groups in this region," said Jesus Olivero, a researcher at the University of Malaga who helped develop the statistical model.
The study was conducted in order to gather information needed to better protect the indigenous group and their way of life.
"This is a very underprivileged and neglected group of people many of whom have already lost their forest land, livelihoods and whose rich cultural traditions are seriously threatened in many regions," explained study co-author Jerome Lewis, an anthropologist at the University College London. "Information on their locations and population numbers are crucial for developing appropriate human rights, cultural and land security safeguards for them, as for other indigenous peoples."