This article originally ran in the Spring 1996 issue of Zoo View, the award-winning quarterly publication of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association. We are re-sharing it now in advance of Dr. Goodall’s presence at our celebration of the United Nations International Day of Peace on September 23, 2018.
All across the continent of Africa, there are sad, pathetic little remnants of chimpanzees where once there were numerous thriving communities. In numbers as small as a dozen, these little groups are just hanging on in tiny strips and small pockets of forest—areas that desperate humans probably can’t see a way to clear for fields to grow food. These struggling, isolated groups of chimpanzees often lose their homes anyway because while the land cannot be easily cultivated, it can be cleared for firewood, building poles, charcoal, and hunting.
The population explosion of humans has strained the carrying capacity of the land and lakes and decimated forests and thousands of species of plants and animals. It is not that people don’t care or are not concerned; these people are desperately poor and must work to fill their stomachs today, with little time to worry about the effects this will have on tomorrow.
Some reforestation programs are in effect already and other measures are being taken. But there can be no answer without the realization that we need to provide a means for hungry people to purchase food and care for themselves. It is only comparatively recently that we have mentioned this problem of mushrooming human populations in the public. Yet, it is the single, most crucial issue facing the continued existence of chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas in their wild state. If one is concerned about the conservation of the great apes, with protecting their natural environment, then it is necessary to understand that any plan must include the people who are living in and around the area to be preserved.
In many countries today, plans are underway for agroforestry (growing trees along with the crops for building poles, firewood, charcoal, silage, and so on), game farming, and the crafting of products that can be sold to buy food rather than grow it. The introduction of ecotourism to bolster the local economy, women’s education programs, and sanctuaries for wildlife which incorporate conservation education programs are all parts of plans to bring about change that will take into account the wishes and needs of the native local populations that live in endangered areas.
Many countries concerned by the rapid deterioration of their natural resources have introduced stringent conservation measures. In Burundi and Uganda, once flourishing centers for illegal traffic in chimpanzees and other wildlife, governments have clamped down on the trade. Seeing orphan chimpanzees for sale is a thing of the past.
Burundi is fighting to save the last of its unique montane rainforest in the north of the country. Only about 350 chimpanzees live there, but the forest is contiguous with a larger area of similar habitat in Rwanda so as many as 500 chimpanzees may be preserved in that area. These are just a few examples of conservation measures recently introduced in some African countries.
Most important is to shed the paternalistic attitude to Africa that has characterized so many development plans. The developed world must also acknowledge its past and sometimes continuing exploitation of the African continent, its people, and their wealth.
Finally, we should not give up hope. There are signs of changed attitudes and, more importantly, of concrete, positive results. We know that research programs like the one at Gombe National Park provide protection for the great apes and other creatures that live there. This is because the local people are involved in learning about and protecting the wildlife near their homes. ☐
This article originally ran in the Spring 1996 issue of Zoo View, the award-winning quarterly publication of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association. A subscription is complimentary with any level of membership. Click here to learn more about our upcoming celebration of the United Nations International Day of Peace with Dr. Goodall on September 23, 2018.