The Human Landscape: People and Gorillas
Understanding the connections between people’s activities, gorillas and gorilla habitat is critical to formulating effective conservation strategies. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International’s current work in the human landscape includes a focus on socioeconomics, education, and health.
Human activities and gorillas: Tourism and community conservation
The Karisoke™ Research Center recently completed a study of the behavior and attitudes towards conservation of tourists who had visited gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. We found that although tourists self-reported that they placed a high value on biodiversity conservation, they were unwilling to pay for local community benefits as part of the permit price to view gorillas. This suggests that tourists need a greater understanding of the link between successful conservation and the welfare of local communities.
We are also currently working on a study in conjunction with the International Gorilla Conservation Programme and CARE to examine the assumptions of community conservation, e.g. that improving local living standards does in fact lead to increased conservation-related behaviors by the local population. More fundamentally, this will also help to establish a monitoring program to see if community development programs funded by tourism dollars are resulting in improvements in local living standards.
A significant goal of all of our education programs is to increase interest in and understanding of the biodiversity of the region and its conservation threats. Recent assessment of university students who participated in research courses through Karisoke™ found a 57% increase in their knowledge of gorillas and their conservation. We are currently assessing the impact of education programs implemented in schools surrounding the mountain gorilla habitat.
Human activities and gorillas: Health research
Our primary health-related research focuses on the effectiveness of the hygiene education programs that accompany our assessment and treatment of local communities for intestinal parasites. These programs include hygiene and conservation education seminars, large metallic posters that demonstrate prevention methods, DVDs showing intestinal parasites, and evening films about hygiene and health, all with the goal of preventing re-infestation. Surveys of the population surrounding two community reserves in the DRC found a 50% decrease in infestation loads after exposure to hygiene education programs. We are now expanding on these preliminary results to fully assess the effectiveness of our educational messages.
An innovative study by two National University of Rwanda students, supported by Karisoke™, examines the use of medicinal plants by gorillas and by human healers in the villages near Volcanoes National Park. African traditional healers have been using indigenous plants for many years to treat certain ailments, and now researchers are starting to discover that gorillas include some of the same plants in their diet. Surveys have shown that traditional healers use up to 183 different plants, of which 110 grow wild in Volcanoes National Park and the remaining 73 are cultivated by people in their gardens. Of the 110 medicinal plants found in the park, 55 are known to be consumed by gorillas. The study seeks to determine not only why the gorillas eat these plants, what effect they may have and the medicinal properties of some of the plants, but also where in the forest humans may go to gather the plants illegally.