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The Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCF) is a spin-off from the Taï Chimpanzee Project (TCP), created after TCP researchers witnessed wild chimpanzee populations in and around Taï National Park diminish due to wildlife poaching and massive deforestation of the tropical forest. Prof. Christophe Boesch initiated conservation efforts with help from his PhD students, who know the region and problematics. The first conservation efforts the WCF initiated were interactive theatre campaigns and biomonitoring programmes. The theatre campaigns were based on previous sociological studies and included collaboration with sociologists from the national universities. The biomonitoring programme started in 2004 in collaboration with Ivorian students, quickly scaling up to the national level and including other protected areas. From 2007 onwards, the collaboration of TCP/WCF initiated a law enforcement and biomonitoring programme in the research area. Between 2009 and 2016, this project helped secure the research area and allowed the most important animal species to repopulate. WCF now undertakes pilot studies for innovative and new methodologies to further improve the park and chimpanzee protection.
One day, two poachers were in the forest and entered the research area of the Taï Chimpanzee Project. They knew that many more monkeys and duikers could be found here than in other parts of the park. After a long walk they heard chimpanzee calls. The chimpanzee group moved toward them without any reaction to their presence. The younger poacher, who was there to carry meat, told the older one with the gun to shoot. But the older one came from a village that had been visited by the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation awareness team. “Wait! People in the village say that the chimpanzees are like humans,” he answered. “Let's first have a look.” It was the Coula nut season and after seeing how the chimpanzees were using hammers to break the nuts open and how some mothers were sharing the nuts they opened with their infants, the older said “They are right in the village. Chimpanzees are like humans. Let's move on.” The poachers continued on their way without shooting at the chimpanzees.
This anecdote was told to us during one of the discussions we had in the village. It illustrates nicely how bringing information about the true abilities of chimpanzees to local populations can contribute directly to saving the lives of this highly endangered species. Scientists can play an important role in conservation and should get involved in sharing their knowledge with local people.
Protection of wild animal populations is an increasing worry for the future of our planet.
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