Conservation Education Builds Awareness
The Fossey Fund partners with people in Africa who share the gorillas’ ecosystem to provide conservation education.
When people who live near gorillas learn the value of gorillas and their habitat, they join in protecting, rather than threatening, the gorillas. Although we also provide programs within schools, the Fossey Fund’s education programs reach beyond students to all members of the communities where we work, promoting behaviors that reduce the threat of disease transmission, encouraging people to cooperate with anti-poaching efforts, and motivating people to accept alternatives to resources found in the forest. Both in Rwanda and the Congo, the gorillas’ human neighbors are becoming important ambassadors for gorilla conservation.
Conservation education in Rwanda
In recent years the Conservation Education division of the Karisoke™ Research Center, in collaboration with the Community Conservation Department of Volcanoes National Park, has initiated an annual gorilla trekking event for local leaders from areas near the park, followed by a dialogue on conservation issues. The aim is to gain the good will of as many people around the park as possible toward gorillas. As a result, park management reports that local leaders are now assisting the arrest of people suspected of illegal activities in the park, and voluntary community conservation teams are participating in anti-poaching patrols with park staff. In addition, local people are forming voluntary conservation cooperatives. Groups of older children from the Imbabazi Orphanage have also been treated to gorilla visits.
The Bisate School, located near the park, also serves as a communications hub for Karisoke™, which supports the school in many ways. Whenever Karisoke sponsors a public event at the school, such as distribution of donated books and supplies, staff take the opportunity to explain the importance of the gorillas and their habitat to the community.
In July 2010, we celebrated the opening of a brand new six-classroom block, built with support from the East African Children's Education Fund (EAECF). In attendance were the Ministry of Education's director general in charge of science and technology; the mayor of Masanze District (where the school is located); the chief warden of Volcanoes National Park; hundreds of parents; and all the children enrolled at the school.
Karisoke™ staff also provide conservation programs to other primary schools and to secondary schools in the villages around the park. In 2009, Joseph Karama, Karisoke's conservation education manager, began delivering a new animal science and conservation module (developed by Disney's Animal Kingdom) to primary schools around Volcanoes National Park. The program introduces the children to the diversity of the animals in the neighboring forest, their ecology (with emphasis on the mountain gorilla) and threats to their habitat and existence, as well as shared actions that even children can take part in to help protect the animals.
Conservation education in the Congo
The Fossey Fund helped a network of community-based reserves establish the Tayna Center for Conservation Biology (TCCB), which offers college degrees to students from communities that donated land for the reserves, and serves as a resource for non-students as well. The students operate a radio station that provides conservation education, local news, and other information to some 300,000 people in the surrounding area – the only broadcast signal available to most. The students and staff of the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Community Education (GRACE) facility for gorillas rescued from poachers, located on land donated by TCCB, have produced a popular educational radio drama on health and conservation issues. The GRACE staff also conduct interactive conservation education workshops for local schools, churches, women's groups and agricultural institutions.
Health education in Rwanda and Congo
As part of our Ecosystem Health program, we provide health and hygiene education programs to local communities in collaboration with local authorities, along with testing and treatment programs for intestinal parasite infection and other medical assistance.
The communities targeted for parasite eradication are given hygiene and conservation education seminars, to aid in preventing re-infestation. We provide large metallic posters that demonstrate prevention methods, DVDs showing intestinal parasites, and evening films about hygiene and health. Our message is: "You are part of your environment. Let's work together toward achieving a healthy environment for people and endangered species." Other health education activities include training community people to maintain their clean water systems and training local lab technicians. Clean water access in the communities removes the need to enter gorilla habitat in search of water.