Addressing Protection of the Great Apes in West and Central Africa through Participatory Methods and International Legislation

EPA Grant Number: U915726
Title: Addressing Protection of the Great Apes in West and Central Africa through Participatory Methods and International Legislation
Investigators: Rubio, Paul A.
Institution: Harvard University
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period:    
Project Amount: $68,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2000) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Environmental Justice , Fellowship - Environmental


The objective of this research project is to provide a strategic plan to the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) for overcoming current and future threats to the Great Apes by providing protection through participatory methods and international legislation. The Great Apes, classified as bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans, are the closest living relatives to humans that remain on the planet, and their survival is being threatened on all fronts. Their forest habitat is being destroyed by human encroachment and by aggressive logging and mining operations. Poachers kill the adults and sell their meat, body parts, and babies on the black market. Diseases such as the Ebola virus are decimating the population. Ongoing wars in the regions where they live impede efforts to enforce laws and conduct conservation efforts. Every current estimate of gorilla populations puts these animals on the brink of extinction.


This research project examined the current state of the habitats of all major tribes of Great Apes, including three species of gorilla, three species of chimpanzee, and bonobos, all residing in the central and western regions of Africa. Orangutans are found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. For each group studied, the current threats to the apes were cataloged. The economics, politics, and sociology of the human populations in the regions also were studied to gain insight into the viability of potential protection strategies. Finally, protection strategies were categorized under three major headings: economic protection, habitat protection, and species protection. Within each heading, recommendations were made.

In every species, the most immediate threat is the bushmeat trade. Meat from these animals is prized by indigenous peoples, and is increasingly in demand worldwide as exotic cuisine. Habitat loss is possibly the most deadly threat. Current estimates suggest that by the year 2030, only 10 percent of Africa's existing forest will remain. Both of these threats can be reduced significantly by providing alternative sources of wealth and protein to local human populations. As a secondary benefit, it is possible that improved wealth will discourage the civil wars that rage through many of the affected countries.

One product of this research project is the development of pilot projects in Cameroon, which test the effectiveness of the strategies recommended. These pilot projects, to be coordinated by JGI, would draw on numerous international resources to promote ecotourism as an alternative source of wealth for local people and as a tool for conservation education, amend the World Heritage Convention to include more stringent guidelines for habitat protection, amend existing international treaties that pertain to Great Apes, and draft unprecedented new international legislation to declare the specific rights of the Great Apes.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, Great Apes, Jane Goodall Institute, JGI, bushmeat, human encroachment, extinction, habitat loss, habitat protection, species protection.

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2000
  • 2001
  • Final