Community-based conservation of critically endangered primates in Ivory Coast

Inza Koné is Head of Biodiversity and Food Security at the Swiss Centre for Scientific research in Ivory Coast and the leader of the Country’s Research and Actions for the Conservation of Primates programmeme (RASAP-CI).

Forming a natural border between Ivory Coast and Ghana, the 12,000 hectare Tanoé Forest is currently un-protected and has previously received little conservation attention. Recent surveys however, have revealed it to be a rare location where populations of both the critically endangered roloway guenon and white-naped mangabey monkeys still occur. Evidence of Miss Waldron’s red colobus, a species declared as ‘probably extinct’ in 2000, has also been found here, making the Tanoé Forest the only place where all three primates are thought to still exist.

Despite their conservation significance, Ivory Coast’s forests are being rapidly destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations. As Inza explains, “The only natural forests which still exist in the region are small sacred forests and the swampy Tanoé Forest which was preserved only because of the difficulties of access.” In the few areas left untouched, poverty drives local people to hunt for bushmeat, putting increased pressure on endangered species.

Fighting for greater protection of Tanoé, Inza’s successful campaign against proposals to drain and convert 8,000 hectares of the Tanoé Forest into a palm oil plantation in 2008, have helped him gain the support of both the government and local people and begin developing a community-based system for its conservation and management. “Local chiefs were enthusiastic about initiating a conservation programme based on the empowerment of local communities. Discussions with them and other community members highlighted their willingness to be organized to protect ancestral heritage and biodiversity for future generations.”

To maintain local commitment, Inza and his team are improving access to safe drinking water, medical supplies and education to demonstrate that conservation does not have to be a choice between protecting wildlife and human welfare, but instead that conservation and poverty reduction can go hand-in-hand.

Inza is handing responsibility back to local people who are now involved in forest management and biodiversity monitoring. The development of alternative livelihoods in animal rearing is also further reducing demand for bushmeat whilst providing people with new skills. In doing so, Inza is helping to create a more sustainable way of life and ensure greater awareness, and so protection of West Africa’s three most threatened primates.

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