With six new infant chimpanzees at the Tchimpounga sanctuary this year, the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in the Republic of Congo is almost overflowing. In order to reduce the number of chimpanzees removed from the wild and brought to the sanctuary, the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) is focusing its efforts on community-based education. The goals of JGI’s education efforts: to change the bushmeat trade culture and to stop the illegal killing of wild chimpanzees.
Fours years ago, Patricia Poaty, one of JGI’s education officers, started providing an education program to local school children. The aim of the program is to raise awareness about the animals that live in the area and of the importance of conserving them and their environment. Over the last few weeks, Sam Elton and I have been helping Patricia put together an education manual for primary school teachers in the area. The manual will enable the teachers to deliver the program to their students without outside assistance and enable the Institute to spread key conservation messages to a much wider audience. The aim is to have the program implemented in 50 new schools in the Republic of Congo each year.
Another conservation initiative the Institute’s education team implemented is posting billboards to raise awareness about the protected status of chimpanzees and gorillas and to inform people that it is illegal to kill, buy, sell, transport, detain or be in posession of any chimpanzee or gorilla products. The billboards warn that anyone breaking these laws will be prosecuted and sent to prison. The billboards have been posted in populated areas where protected wildlife products are sold.
Congo also has its very own super hero who fights illegal poaching and protects its forests: Super Kodo. Super Kodo is a local children’s television program created, written and produced by Fernando Turmo, JGI-Congo’s communications coordinator. The character of Super Kodo is played by Corel, a 15-year-old boy from one of the local villages. Super Kodo has magical powers that allow him to stop the poachers and protect the forests he loves. Super Kodo also deals with other important issues, including illegal logging and recycling.
When I spoke with Fernando about Super Kodo, he explained that when he first arrived in the Republic of Congo seven years ago, he realized that the local people
knew very little about conservation and the importance of protecting the environment. He believes that the children of Congo are the key to its future and need a role model to educate them about the importance of the natural environment. As a child, Fernando’s heroes were Tarzan and Superman. In Super Kodo, Fernando has combined his two favorite heroes and created a character with whom the local children can identify. Through Super Kodo, Fernando is able to draw on local customs, like magic, and children’s imaginations to get his message across. The TV show has been a huge success with children and adults and is aired for free on three local stations. Through the program, JGI spreads its message to the wider community. Last week, Sam and I were lucky enough to watch the filming of an episode and meet the program’s star!
These community-based conservation efforts have been very successful and are crucial to ending the illegal hunting of chimpanzees and protecting their natural habitat. Recent local community surveys indicate that more than 90 percent of people in the area are now aware of the laws regarding chimpanzees and gorillas and 50 percent said that they would inform the authorities if they found people in possession of chimpanzee or gorilla products. Since JGI implemented the education programs three years ago, there have been no confiscations in the Pointe Noire area. Previously, approximately 23 percent of the confiscations in the Republic of Congo came from around Pointe Noire.
- Taronga Primate Keeper, Katie