The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Co-Founder by Great Ape Trust of Iowa, to Add Acres To a Resurgent Forest

Kinihira, Rwanda — The Gishwati Area Conservation Program, co-founded by Great Ape Trust of Iowa, in the next year will look to add acres to a resurgent forest, discover more about chimpanzees' diet and help residents keep their crops off the chimps' menu.

Many members of the trust's 19-member staff on Monday gathered around the program's field station's backyard table — sometimes used to examine chimpanzee excrement — to set major goals for next year. The plans are tentative and still must be approved in Africa and Des Moines.

The trust, a primate research and conservation facility based in southeast Des Moines near Easter Lake, joined with the federal and local governments in Rwanda to start the conservation program, which began full operations last year.

A chief goal is to reforest an area cleared during resettlement after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The project also includes major research into the feeding habits and behavior of a group of 14 or so chimpanzees still making the forest remnant home.

Monday's discussion led to proposals for public toilets near the Gishwati Forest (people are defecating there, which could pose health threats to the chimps), a Gishwati ecotourism plan and a biodiversity plan.

Ape trust co-founder and Des Moines businessman Ted Townsend recently agreed to extend the central project work through 2010 at least. The organization is raising money for additional research and for the cost of reforestation of a 31-mile, 12,500-acre stretch from Gishwati, in northwestern Rwanda, to Nyungwe National Forest, home to hundreds of chimpanzees.

At one time, Gishwati Forest spanned 250,000 acres and was the nation's second-largest forest. Today, the forest spans about 3,000 acres. Another 1,000 acres will be added when residents living on forest ground are relocated in a government program.

The program budget grew from the start-up level of $140,000 in 2008 to $220,000 this year. It will stay at $220,000 next year unless new grants come in, said Benjamin Beck, the ape trust's conservation director.

The Rwandan government has already allocated money to reforest 740 acres. The program staff wants nearly 1,000 acres added next year.

One fundraising idea: Allowing donors to name the Gishwati chimps. Beck suggests a fee of perhaps $5,000 for naming rights, enough to pay a full-time project research assistant for a year.

Project coordinator Madeleine Nyiratuza said the program will continue its work to encourage local residents to plant potatoes and beans near the forest, rather than corn. Chimpanzees like to raid the corn plots.

Beck said chimps will not travel far for food, and the zone of beans and potatoes keeps the corn and other crops savored by chimps at a safe distance. "If this idea is successful, it will be repeated everywhere," Beck said.

The program provided a $5,000 grant for the crop seeds this year and may consider lending money for additional work, he said.

Another goal: adding two more ecoguards to the present force of four. Those unarmed workers watch for cattle grazing and other illegal activities in the forest, and explain the offenses to violators. If the crimes continue, the cases are turned over to local police.

And the program wants to encourage local cooperatives that would find markets for baskets, textiles and other local goods, Nyiratuza said.

Perry Beeman is reporting from Rwanda on a trip financed by the International Reporting Project.


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