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‎"A mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions." - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Welcome to the club P.A.N. blog

Please visit the club P.A.N. site for more information

Club P.A.N. is part of the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation's conservation education program currently operating around the Tai National Park in Ivory Coast. The Tai National Park is the largest undisturbed forest block in all of West Africa and home to a large number of western chimpanzees, hence our name P.A.N (the genus name for chimpanzees). P.A.N. also stands for Personnes, Animaux, Nature (People, Animals Nature) as educating people is a crucial part of nature conservation.
The conservation goals of Club P.A.N.

* To teach children around Taï NP about the flora and fauna of the region's ecosystem, so that they appreciate and take pride in the biodiversity that exists in their region
* To teach children basic knowledge on environmental issues in order to promote care and awareness towards nature conservation and its significance
* To discourage the trade in illegal bushmeat by reducing the likelihood that the current generation of children will consume or trade bushmeat in the future
* To promote the conservation and research activities undertaken within the Taï NP, with people that would otherwise have very little contact with the protected area

Bushmeat hunting in the tropics and Ivory Coast
Tropical forests were once widespread throughout West Africa but are continuing to decline, from more than 40 million ha to less than 8 million ha today (Martin, 1989). Consequently, the wildlife in the forests of these tropical countries is also declining at a tremendous rate due to various threats, but most notably due to bushmeat hunting, driven by an ever-increasing protein demand by some of the world's poorest people. Furthermore, the bushmeat trade is the key contributor to local economies in tropical Africa and elsewhere (Robinson et al., 1999; Robinson & Bennett, 2000; Milner-Gullard et al., 2003).

Less than 10% of the original forest-cover remains in Ivory Coast (FAO/World Bank, 1988). The Taï National Park (NP) and the neighboring Reserve N'Zo total 536,000 ha and represent the largest intact and protected forest block in West Africa. The area was registered as a Biosphere Reserve in 1978 and as a UNESCO World heritage site four years later (Boesch & Boesch-Achermann, 2000). The Taï NP harbours more than 1400 species of vascular plants, as well as 11 primate species, including the Western chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes verus) and a large population of red colobus monkeys (Procolobus badius). The pygmy hippo (Cheoropsis liberensis) is also endemic to this region.

The human population around the Taï NP has increased from 23,000 individuals in 1965 to 375,000 inhabitants in 1988 (Boesch & Boesch-Achermann, 2000). This population increase was caused by immigration from both Liberian refugees and settlers from the Sahel region. Settlers from the Sahel immigrated to the region in hopes of establishing farms in deforested areas and gaining employment in the expanding timber industry (Martin, 1991). Refugees from Liberia immigrating into the region caused a 400% increase in human population density in villages west of the Taï NP, reaching up to 135 people/km2 in one area (Boesch & Boesch-Achermann, 2000, Kormos et al., 2003). The mass immigration to the region has also resulted in illegal farming activities within the Taï NP (Boesch & Boesch-Achermann, 2000).

These factors have certainly increased the demand for bushmeat in the region and are unquestionably having negative impacts on the local wildlife populations. The decline of some species, such as the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), have already been studied and documented (Merz & Hoppe-Dominik, 1991). The largest forest elephant population was once found in Taï NP and was estimated to include 800 individuals. However, by the end of the 1980s the population had declined to less than 100 elephants in the region (Merz & Hoppe-Dominik, 1991). Today, the elephants are locally extinct in some areas of the park and researchers only rarely encounter indirect signs of their presence.

Although it is officially forbidden to kill, consume or trade wild animals in Ivory Coast, wildlife harvesting happens on both local and commercial scales with wildlife from within the Taï NP supplying meat for both markets (Caspary et al., 2001)., Illegal hunting is widespread and bushmeat markets are flourishing (Caspary et al., 2001). In 1996, 35.5 million wild animals, totaling 120,000 tons and worth 117 million euros (149 million US dollars), were killed by Ivorian hunters (Caspary et al., 2001). Around Taï NP, Refisch & Koné (2005) estimated that primates were the most commonly hunted taxa and that for most species, hunting was unsustainable. International developing and conservation organizations such as the KfW (Kreditanstalt fuer Wiederaufbau), GTZ (Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit), the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), the WCF (Wild Chimpanzee Foundation) together with the OIPR (Office Ivorien des Parcs et Reserves en Cote dIvoire) try to fight against the threats that pose on the fauna and flora of the park through law enforcement, effective surveillance and management techniques, bio-monitoring and education programs and developmental support for neighboring villages.

The chimpanzee population in Ivory Coast is believed to be amongst the largest in West Africa but has dramatically declined from over 100,000 to less than 10,000 individuals in the past few decades (Kormos et al., 2003). Poaching of wildlife has had both direct (chimpanzees constitute around 3% of the species sold in urban markets and served in village restaurants (Caspary et al., 2001)) and indirect consequences for the chimpanzee population in Taï NP. Snares which are laid out to kill forest duikers have caused mortality and injury to the chimpanzees in the region (Boesch & Boesch-Achermann, 2000). The presence of poachers can also be very stressful to the animals and hence increase mortality among the chimpanzee population (Boesch & Boesch-Achermann, 2000). Furthermore, chimpanzees are considered as pests due their occasional consumption of crops. It is suspected that this crop raiding behavior has led to the death of many male chimpanzees from the chimpanzee research project in the park (Boesch & Boesch-Achermann, 2000). Chimpanzees were once common in Taï NP but are now abundant only in areas where researchers are studying their behavior (Kormos et al., 2003).

In addition to short-term projects aimed at reducing the impact of bushmeat hunting on local wildlife populations, such as increased anti-poaching patrols and other law-enforcement strategies, it is important to consider long-term programs to protect endangered wildlife. In this respect public outreach and awareness programs can play a vital role in changing local attitudes towards the intrinsic value of wildlife.

Conservation education is seen as a priority action for the conservation of chimpanzees and other wildlife (Kormos et al., 2003). Awareness raising campaigns of the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCF) in the past have conveyed the need to conserve chimpanzees through interactive theaters, discussion rounds, films and newsletters. This has happened both at a local scale around Taï NP and internationally. These campaigns are often targeted at adults whereas long-term approaches oriented towards the next generation, have only rarely been employed thus far. Therefore, the conservation group at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig Germany (made up of graduate students from the department of primatology) approached the WCF to expand their education activities to include the local schools around the park and from this union, club P.A.N. was created.

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